Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


Nuclear Engineering

First Advisor

Travis W. Knight


As current reactors approach the end of their operable lifetime, new reactors are needed if nuclear power is to continue being generated in the United States. Some utilities have already began construction on newer, more advanced LWR reactors, which use the same fuel as current reactors and have a similar but updated design. Others are researching next generation (GEN-IV) reactors which have new designs that utilize alternative fuel, coolants and other reactor materials. Many of these alternative fuels are capable of achieving higher burnups and are designed to be more accident tolerant than the currently used UO2 fuel. However, before these new materials can be used, extensive research must be done in order to obtain a detailed understanding of how the new fuels and other materials will interact.

New fuels, such as uranium nitride (UN) and uranium carbide (UC) have several advantages over UO2, such as increased burnup capabilities and higher thermal conductivities. However, there are issues with each that prevent UC and UN from being used as direct replacements for UO2. Both UC and UN swell at a significantly higher rate than UO2 and neither fuel reacts favorably when exposed to water. Due to this, UC and UN are being considered more for GEN-IV reactors that use alternative coolant rather than for current LWRs. In an effort to increase accident tolerance, silicon carbide (SiC) is being considered for use as an alternative cladding. The high strength, high melting point and low oxidation of SiC make it an attractive cladding choice, especially in an accident scenario. However, as a ceramic, SiC is not ductile and will not creep outwards upon pellet-clad mechanical interaction (PCMI) which can cause a large build up in interfacial pressure.

In order to understand the interaction between the high swelling fuels and unyielding SiC cladding, data on the properties and behaviors of these materials must be gathered and incorporated into FRAPCON. FRAPCON is a fuel performance code developed by PNNL and used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as a licensing code for US reactors. FRAPCON will give insight into how these new fuel-cladding combinations will affect cladding hoop stress and help determine if the new materials are feasible for use in a reactor.

To accurately simulate the interaction between the new materials, a soft pellet model that allows for stresses on the pellet to affect pellet deformation will have to be implemented. Currently, FRAPCON uses a rigid pellet model that does not allow for feedback of the cladding onto the pellet. Since SiC does not creep at the temperatures being considered and is not ductile, any PCMI create a much higher interfacial pressure than is possible with Zircaloy. Because of this, it is necessary to implement a model that allows for pellet creep to alleviate some of these cladding stresses. These results will then be compared to FEMAXI-6, a Japanese fuel performance code that already calculates pellet stress and allows for cladding feedback onto the pellet. This research is intended to be a continuation and verification of previous work done by USC on the analysis of accident tolerant fuels with alternative claddings and is intended to prove that a soft pellet model is necessary to accurately model any fuel with SiC cladding.