Never Another Chernobyl: Boron in Nuclear Energy Helps Ensure Safety

:: Monday, June 24, 2019 :: Posted By Maryam Moravej
In the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries Chernobyl, viewers are transported to a time when nuclear power was emerging. Despite the fact that nuclear power generation was pioneered in the 1950s, in 1986, it still felt new—and the safeguards for preventing nuclear meltdown were still developing.
Today, nuclear technologies provide fuel that supports our modern way of life and opens doors to future science and exploration. Nuclear power plants across the United States are providing 20% of the nation’s electricity. Globally, that power is clean, reliable, and used across a variety of applications from electrifying homes and cities to providing power for electric vehicles, space exploration, and sustainable infrastructure development in developing countries.

Most important, today’s nuclear energy is safe. Providers are well equipped to prevent safety issues from arising—and to respond if an issue should occur. In both cases, boron is a key tool in the safety toolbox.

How does boron help control nuclear reactions?

The atomic structure of boron makes it an effective neutron absorber. In particular, the 10B isotope, present at around 20% natural abundance, has a high nuclear cross-section and can capture the thermal neutrons that are generated by the fission reaction of uranium.
By absorbing neutrons during nuclear fission, boron controls the rate of the reaction and can even slow or stop it—without itself fissioning.

How is boron used in nuclear power plants?

Because of its radiation-absorbing effect, boron is widely used in the shielding, control, and safety systems of nuclear reactors.
  • Control rods: Boron is a primary neutron absorber used in the construction of the control rods in the core of a nuclear reactor.
  • Shielding: Boron is added to steel so that the metal itself can better absorb neutron radiation. The boron-based steel is used in construction and shielding throughout the plant. Boron is also added to plastics used in applications throughout the plant.
  • Coolant water: Borated water is often used as the coolant for removing heat from the reactor core. Borates are added to the water, providing the added benefit of helping to control the fission rate in the reactor. The reactivity occurring in the plant can be adjusted by changing the boron level in the water.
  • Stored on site: Nuclear plants typically keep large quantities of boron on site. The stored boron can be added to coolant water if a problem occurs and is used in safety systems and to help ensure a shutdown if needed.

U.S. Borax: Supplying boron for nuclear energy production

U.S. Borax provides 20 Mule Team® Borax Optibor® for a wide variety of industrial optimization applications, including nuclear power production. We are proud to provide a key element in ensuring the production of safe, clean energy for future generations.



U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 650 customers with more than 1,800 delivery locations globally. We supply around 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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