Date of Award

1-1-2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Nuclear Engineering

First Advisor

Travis W Knight

Abstract

Ceramic materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) are promising candidate materials for nuclear fuel cladding and are of interest as part of a potential accident tolerant fuel design due to its high temperature strength, dimensional stability under irradiation, corrosion resistance, and lower neutron absorption cross-section. It also offers drastically lower hydrogen generation in loss of coolant accidents such as that experienced at Fukushima. With the implementation of SiC material properties to the fuel performance code, FRAPCON, performances of the SiC-clad fuel are compared with the conventional Zircaloy-clad fuel. Due to negligible creep and high stiffness, SiC-clad fuel allows gap closure at higher burnup and insignificant cladding dimensional change. However, severe degradation of SiC thermal conductivity with neutron irradiation will lead to higher fuel temperature with larger fission gas release.

High stiffness of SiC has a drawback of accumulating large interfacial pressure upon pellet-cladding mechanical interactions (PCMI). This large stress will eventually reach the flexural strength of SiC, causing failure of SiC cladding instantly in a brittle manner instead of the graceful failure of ductile metallic cladding. The large interfacial pressure causes phenomena that were previously of only marginal significance and thus ignored (such as creep of the fuel) to now have an important role in PCMI. Consideration of the fuel pellet creep and elastic deformation in PCMI models in FRAPCON provide for an improved understanding of the magnitude of accumulated interfacial pressure. Outward swelling of the pellet is retarded by the inward irradiation-induced creep, which then reduces the rate of interfacial pressure buildup. Effect of PCMI can also be reduced and by increasing gap width and cladding thickness. However, increasing gap width and cladding thickness also increases the overall thermal resistance which leads to higher fuel temperature and larger fission gas release. An optimum design is sought considering both thermal and mechanical models of this ceramic cladding with UO2 and advanced high density fuels.

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