Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Nuclear Engineering

Sub-Department

College of Engineering and Computing

First Advisor

Travis W. Knight

Second Advisor

Elwyn Roberts

Abstract

Following the accident at the Fukushima plant, enhancing the accident tolerance of the light water reactor (LWR) fleet became a topic of serious discussion. Under the direction of congress, the DOE office of Nuclear Energy added accident tolerant fuel development as a primary component to the existing Advanced Fuels Program. The DOE defines accident tolerant fuels as fuels that “in comparison with the standard UO2- Zircaloy system currently used by the nuclear industry, can tolerate loss of active cooling in the reactor core for a considerably longer time period (depending on the LWR system and accident scenario) while maintaining or improving the fuel performance during normal operations, operational transients, as well as design-basis and beyond design-basis events.”

To be economically viable, proposed accident tolerant fuels and claddings should be backward compatible with LWR designs, provide significant operating cost improvements such as power uprates, increased fuel burnup, or increased cycle length. In terms of safety, an alternative fuel pellet must have resistance to water corrosion comparable to UO2, thermal conductivity equal to or larger than that of UO2, and a melting temperature that allows the material to remain solid under power reactor conditions. Among the candidates, U3Si2 has a number of advantageous thermophysical properties, including; high density, high thermal conductivity at room temperature, and a high melting temperature. These properties support its use as an accident tolerant fuel while its high uranium density is capable of supporting uprates to the LWR fleet.

This research characterizes U3Si2 pellets and analyzes U3Si2 under light water reactor conditions using the fuel performance code BISON. While some thermophysical properties for U3Si2 have been found in the literature, the irradiation behavior is sparse and limited to experience with dispersion fuels. Accordingly, the creep behavior for U3Si2 has been unknown, making it difficult to predict fuel-cladding mechanical behavior. This information is essential for designing accident tolerant fuel systems where ceramic claddings, like silicon carbide (SiC) are proposed. This research provides a model for both the thermal and irradiation creep behavior for U3Si2.

This body of research is comprised of both experimental and modeling components. Characterization of the fuel microstructure includes; optical microscopy with pore and grain size analysis, helium pycnometry for density determination, mercury intrusion porosimetry, compositional analysis in the form of XRD, second phase identification using EDX, electrical resistance measurement via four point probe, determination of hardness and toughness through Vickers indentation testing, and determination of elastic properties using the impulse excitation method. Post-sintering grain size data allowed for the determination of grain boundary activation energy and diffusion coefficients, which were used to develop creep models. This was extended to lattice and irradiation enhanced diffusion in order to develop a U3Si2 creep model over thermal and irradiation creep regimes. In addition to the creep model, thermal and swelling behavior models for U3Si2 were implemented into the BISON fuel performance code. A series of simulations evaluated the performance and behavior of U3Si2 under typical light water reactor conditions with advanced SiC ceramic cladding. Simulation results show that fuel creep relieves stress in the ceramic cladding and postpones the moment of fuel-clad contact. However, the stress reduction to the cladding is minimal because the fuel creep rate is low while the swelling rate is high. Future work should include the investigation of monolithic U3Si2 irradiation swelling since the current model relies upon the swelling data of U3Si2 particles in a metallic dispersion fuel. Additionally, planned thermal creep testing at the University of South Carolina can provide confirmation of the U3Si2 creep model contained herein.

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