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Nuclear reactor coolants
Coolant Melting point Boiling point
Light water at 155 bar 345 °C
Mercury -38.83 °C 356.73 °C
NaK eutectic -11 °C 785 °C
Sodium 97.72 °C 883 °C
FLiBe 459 °C 1430 °C
Lead 327.46 °C 1749 °C
Lead-bismuth eutectic 123.5 °C 1670 °C

Nuclear reactor coolant is coolant in a nuclear reactor that is used to remove heat from the nuclear reactor core and transfer it to electrical generators and the environment. Frequently a chain of two coolant loops is used because the primary coolant loop takes on short-term radioactivity from the reactor.

Almost all currently operating nuclear power plants are light water reactors using ordinary water under high pressure as coolant and neutron moderator. About 1/3 are boiling water reactors where the primary coolant undergoes phase change to steam inside the reactor. About 2/3 are pressurized water reactors at even higher pressure. Current reactors stay under the critical point at around 374 °C and 218 bar where the distinction between liquid and gas disappears, which limits thermal efficiency, but the proposed supercritical water reactor would operate above this point.

Fast reactors have a high power density and do not need neutron moderation. Most have been liquid metal cooled reactors using molten sodium. Lead and other metals have also been proposed and occasionally used.

Molten salts share with metals the advantage of low vapor pressure even at high temperatures, and are less chemically reactive than sodium. Salts containing light elements like FLiBe can also provide moderation and even serve as a solvent carrying the nuclear fuel.

Gases have also been used as coolant. Helium is extremely inert both chemically and with respect to nuclear reactions but has a low heat capacity necessitating rapid circulation. Carbon dioxide has also been used. Gases of course need to be under pressure for sufficient density at high temperature.

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