Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Nuclear Engineering

First Advisor

Travis W. Knight


The Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) is a design basis accident that is included as part of the safety analysis of nuclear power plants. As the nuclear industry desires to increase the cycle length and discharge burnup of existing nuclear power plants they must demonstrate safe operation during a LOCA on high burnup fuel. During a LOCA transient on high burnup fuel rods, the rods may undergo a process known as fuel fragmentation, relocation, and dispersal (FFRD). To permit dispersal, the cladding encapsulating the fuel must rupture with an opening size large enough to allow the fragmented fuel particles to release. Current licensing tools used by industry and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission are limited in geometric fidelity and materials that can be analyzed. These simulation tools generally employ a quasi-two-dimensional (1.5D or Layered1D) or 2D-RZ axisymmetric geometric representations exclusively. While a valid approach under some instances, there are times when important physics have an asymmetric behavior in the fuel rod. Examples include fuel fragmentation, thermal-hydraulic boundary conditions, and cladding rupture, all of which are important for LOCA analysis.

As industry pursues burnup extensions it must be demonstrated that fuel dispersal can be mitigated or eliminated. To do this, an understanding of the rupture opening after cladding failure is required. This work presents the development of a model for predicting the size and location of the rupture opening in failed fuel rods during LOCA conditions using advanced modeling and simulation tools. In order to supply the rupture model with appropriate boundary conditions, improvements to fuel fragmentation, axial relocation and oxidation modeling were required.

First, the eXtended Finite Element Method (XFEM) is used to mechanistically predict the number of fuel fragments that form due to material strength randomization, criteria for strength randomization, mesh density, power ramping rates and irradiation effects. These predictions with associated uncertainty were compared to empirical correlations developed for UO2 verifying that they can be used with increased confidence in subsequent axial relocation analyses. Secondly, a new first-of-its-kind Layered2D computational framework was developed that provides the ability to apply azimuthally varying boundary conditions while providing discrete layers to track fuel movement during the LOCA. An existing fuel axial relocation model developed for Layered1D was extended to work within the Layered2D framework. A large sensitivity study was performed on the initial version of the model to identify modeling parameters of particular importance, with the emissivity used for radiation after blowdown being the primary source of uncertainty. Then, a simplistic approach to incorporate mechanical degradation of the cladding due to oxidation was also developed to investigate the impact of reduced cladding thickness on predictions of the time to failure of cladding tubes. It was found that the cladding will typically rupture prior to a reduction in thickness that is sufficient to impact the rupture behavior. A model was then developed for predicting cladding rupture that transfers the cladding surface temperatures, rod internal and external pressures, fast neutron fluence, and fast neutron flux from a more detailed Layered1D, Layered2D, or 2D-RZ analysis to a 3D cladding only analysis. Comparisons of the rupture model to a few experiments indicate reasonable predictions. The rupture model was then applied to two accident tolerant fuel concepts (FeCrAl and Cr-coated Zircaloy) where it predicted that both ATF concepts would have smaller rupture openings and delayed rupture times than the standard Zircaloy-4 cladding material under identical loading conditions.


© 2022, Kyle Allan Lawrence Gamble