What is Dry Steam – Definition

Dry steam, or saturated steam, is characterized by the vapor quality, which is equal to unity. Properties of dry steam are tabulated in so called steam tables. Thermal Engineering

Dry Steam – Saturated Vapor

Phase diagram of water
Phase diagram of water.
Source: wikipedia.org CC BY-SA

Dry steam, or saturated steam,  is characterized by the vapor quality, which is equal to unity. When the vapor quality is equal to 0, it is referred to as the saturated liquid state (single-phase). On the other hand, when the vapor quality is equal to 1, it is referred to as the saturated vapor state or dry steam (single-phase). Between these two states, we talk about vapor-liquid mixture or wet steam (two-phase mixture). At constant pressure, an addition of energy does not changes the temperature of the mixture, but the vapor quality and specific volume changes. In the case of dry steam (100% quality), it contains 100% of the latent heat available at that pressure. Saturated liquid water, which has no latent heat and therefore 0% quality, will therefore only contain sensible heat.

Typically most of nuclear power plants operates multi-stage condensing steam turbines. In these turbines the high-pressure stage receives steam (this steam is nearly saturated steam – x = 0.995 – point C at the figure) from a steam generator and exhaust it to moisture separator-reheater (point D). The steam must be reheated in order to avoid damages that could be caused to blades of steam turbine by low quality steam. The reheater heats the steam (point D) and then the steam is directed to the low-pressure stage of steam turbine, where expands (point E to F). The exhausted steam is at a pressure well below atmospheric, and is in a partially condensed state (point F), typically of a quality near 90%.

Pressurizer: steam-liquid equilibrium
A pressurizer is a key component of PWRs.

A pressurizer is a component of a pressurized water reactor. Pressure in the primary circuit of PWRs is maintained by a pressurizer, a separate vessel that is connected to the primary circuit (hot leg) and partially filled with water which is heated to the saturation temperature (boiling point) for the desired pressure by submerged electrical heaters. Temperature in the pressurizer can be maintained at 350 °C (662 °F), which gives a subcooling margin (the difference between the pressurizer temperature and the highest temperature in the reactor core) of 30 °C. Subcooling margin is very important safety parameter of PWRs, since the boiling in the reactor core must be excluded. The basic design of the pressurized water reactor includes such requirement that the coolant (water) in the reactor coolant system must not boil. To achieve this, the coolant in the reactor coolant system is maintained at a pressure sufficiently high that boiling does not occur at the coolant temperatures experienced while the plant is operating or in an analyzed transient.


Pressure in the pressurizer is controlled by varying the temperature of the coolant in the pressurizer. For these purposes two systems are installed. Water spray system and electrical heaters system. Volume of the pressurizer (tens of cubic meters) is filled with water on saturation parameters and steam. The water spray system (relatively cool water – from cold leg) can decrease the pressure in the vessel by condensing the steam on water droplets sprayed in the vessel. On the other hand the submerged electrical heaters are designed to increase the pressure by evaporation the water in the vessel. Water pressure in a closed system tracks water temperature directly; as the temperature goes up, pressure goes up.

Steam Generator - operating conditions
Steam Generator - vertical
Steam Generator – vertical

Steam generators are heat exchangers used to convert feedwater into steam from heat produced in a nuclear reactor core. The steam produced drives the turbine. They are used in the most nuclear power plants, but there are many types according to the reactor type.

The hot primary coolant (water 330°C; 626°F; 16MPa) is pumped into the steam generator through primary inlet. High pressure of primary coolant is used to keep the water in the liquid state. Boiling of the primary coolant shall not occur. The liquid water flows through hundreds or thousands of tubes (usually 1.9 cm in diameter) inside the steam generator. The feedwater (secondary circuit) is heated from ~260°C 500°F to the boiling point of that fluid (280°C; 536°F; 6,5MPa). Heat is transferred through the walls of these tubes to the lower pressure secondary coolant located on the secondary side of the exchanger where the coolant evaporates to pressurized steam (saturated steam 280°C; 536°F; 6,5 MPa). The pressurized steam leaves the steam generator through a steam outlet and continues to the steam turbine. The transfer of heat is accomplished without mixing the two fluids to prevent the secondary coolant from becoming radioactive. The primary coolant leaves (water 295°C; 563°F; 16MPa) the steam generator through primary outlet and continues through a cold leg to a reactor coolant pumpand then into the reactor.

Vapor Quality – Dryness Fraction

dry-steam-saturated-vapor-minAs can be seen from the phase diagram of water, in the two-phase regions (e.g. on the border of vapor/liquid phases), specifying temperature alone will set the pressure and specifying pressure will set the temperature. But these parameters will not define the volume and enthalpy because we will need to know the relative proportion of the two phases present.

The mass fraction of the vapor in a two-phase liquid-vapor region is called the vapor quality (or dryness fraction), x, and it is given by following formula:

vapor quality

The value of the quality ranges from zero to unity. Although defined as a ratio, the quality is frequently given as a percentage. From this point of view, we distinguish between three basic types of  steam. It must be added, at x=0, we are talking about saturated liquid state (single-phase).

This classification of steam has its limitation. Consider the behavior of the system which is heated at the pressure, that is higher than the critical pressure. In this case, there would be no change in phase from liquid to steam. At all states there would be only one phase. Vaporization and condensation can occur only when the pressure is less than the critical pressure. The terms liquid and vapor tend to lose their significance.

See also: Saturation

Properties of Steam – Steam Tables

Water and steam are a common fluid used for heat exchange in the primary circuit (from surface of fuel rods to the coolant flow) and in the secondary circuit. It used due to its availability and high heat capacity, both for cooling and heating. It is especially effective to transport heat through vaporization and condensation of water because of its very large latent heat of vaporization.

A disadvantage is that water moderated reactors have to use high pressure primary circuit in order to keep water in liquid state and in order to achieve sufficient thermodynamic efficiency. Water and steam also reacts with metals commonly found in industries such as steel and copper that are oxidized faster by untreated water and steam. In almost all thermal power stations (coal, gas, nuclear), water is used as the working fluid (used in a closed loop between boiler, steam turbine and condenser), and the coolant (used to exchange the waste heat to a water body or carry it away by evaporation in a cooling tower).

Properties of water - steam tables
Steam Tables – common parameters in energy systems

Water and steam are a common medium because their properties are very well known. Their properties are tabulated in so called “Steam Tables”. In these tables the basic and key properties, such as pressure, temperature, enthalpy, density and specific heat, are tabulated along the vapor-liquid saturation curve as a function of both temperature and pressure. The properties are also tabulated for single-phase states (compressed water or superheated steam) on a grid of temperatures and pressures extending to 2000 ºC and 1000 MPa.

Further comprehensive authoritative data can be found at the NIST Webbook page on thermophysical properties of fluids.

See also: Steam Tables

Special Reference: Allan H. Harvey. Thermodynamic Properties of Water, NISTIR 5078. Retrieved from https://www.nist.gov/sites/default/files/documents/srd/NISTIR5078.htm

Chart: Absolute pressure as a function of temperature of water
Water: Absolute pressure as a function of temperature
Water: Absolute pressure as a function of temperature
Chart: Density as a function of temperature of water
Chart - density - water - temperature
Density as a function of temperature of water
Chart: Dynamic viscosity as a function of temperature of water
Dynamic viscosity as a function of temperature of water
Chart: Dynamic viscosity as a function of temperature of water
Source: wikipedia.org CC BY-SA
Reactor Physics and Thermal Hydraulics:
  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. Todreas Neil E., Kazimi Mujid S. Nuclear Systems Volume I: Thermal Hydraulic Fundamentals, Second Edition. CRC Press; 2 edition, 2012, ISBN: 978-0415802871
  6. Zohuri B., McDaniel P. Thermodynamics in Nuclear Power Plant Systems. Springer; 2015, ISBN: 978-3-319-13419-2
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  8. Kleinstreuer C. Modern Fluid Dynamics. Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4020-8670-0.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, THERMODYNAMICS, HEAT TRANSFER, AND FLUID FLOW. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1, 2 and 3. June 1992.

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