Corresponding author: Svetlana S. Teplyakova (
Academic editor: Yury Kazansky
The paper presents the results of a numerical study into the efficiency of the fuel element operation in the pressurized water reactor (VVER) core filled with uranium dioxide (UO_{2}) pellets. The investigation results were obtained from a threedimensional simulation of the fuel element power density. The dependencies of the fuel and fuel cladding temperatures on specific power per cubic meter of fuel are compared. Uranium metal and uranium dioxide have been studied as fuel. Engineering constraints on the safe operation of fuel assemblies have been selected as the determining parameters. The paper analyzes the extent of the radiation heat transfer effects on the fuel element specific power. Equations have been obtained that reflect the dependencies of specific power per cubic meter of fuel on the size of the fuel pellet hole diameter in the maximum heat flux conditions. The COMSOL Multiphysics code, a numerical thermophysical simulation package, was used for the study. Calculations show that an additional uranium235 enrichment with an increase in the fuel pellet hole diameter at a fixed fuel thermal power leads to a reduced reactor axial temperature field peaking factor.
Gorbunov VA, Teplyakova SS, Lonshakov NA, Andrianov SG, Mineev PA (2023) Investigation of the influence of the fuel element design parameter on the VVER1000 reactor axial power peaking factor. Nuclear Energy and Technology 9(3): 189–195.
Modern fuel assemblies (TVSAT, TVSA12, TVSA12PLUS, TVS2M) for VVER1000 reactors allow improving the NPP performance thanks to a longer lifetime and extended fuel cycles. The core of such reactor type is formed by fuel assemblies consisting of rodtype fuel elements (
Calculating the temperature fields inside the reactor core requires solving conjugate problems for determining the internal power density in the fuel element based on neutronic characteristics (
The VVER reactor core model has a simple cylindrical shape. The origin of coordinates is at the core center. Two coordinates are used for the cylinder: radius
The reactor power density is not uniform in the process of operation. It changes in accordance with the zeroorder Bessel functions in the radial direction, and according to the cosinusoidal law in the axial direction. Coefficients are introduced to allow for the power peaking defined by the maximum to average power density ratio. The core peaking factor,
where
The core axial power peaking factor,
where
Widely used in practice is the volumetric power peaking factor,
For a homogeneous cylindrical reactor core without a reflector, the maximum volumetric power peaking factor exceeds by more than three times the reactor core average value and amounts to
It is occasionally proposed that the core axial power density be flattened via a nonuniform axial distribution of the burnable coolant. Another flattening method under consideration is to insert control rods from below and position them in the maximum thermal neutron density region.
The accumulated experience of the VVER1000 reactor operation has shown that the core axial power density flattening is a topical issue.
The purpose of the study is to search for ways to increase the efficiency of fuel element operation by reducing the VVER1000 core axial power peaking factor (
The following needs to be done as part of the study for its objective to be achieved.
Analyze the peculiarities of the fuel power density in the VVER1000 reactor, and build 3D models for the fuel temperature field determination using the finite element method and the COMSOL Multiphysics code.
Investigate fuel elements in conditions of the maximum thermal load and as the temperature limits are reached.
Build the 3D model for the fuel element temperature field determination and numerically calculate it further. The model includes a thermal conductivity equation with an internal source of energy, and takes into account the temperature effects on the thermophysical properties of uranium fuel, helium and the cladding of a zirconium alloy (
Investigate the effects of the fuel pellet material (UO
_{2} uranium dioxide and U uranium metal) for the fuel element with a different heat conductivity coefficient on the core axial power peaking factor (
Investigate the effects of the heat exchange radiation component inside the fuel pellet holes and in the gap between the fuel and the fuel cladding during 2D simulations using the radiative heat exchange algorithm offered in the COMSOL Multiphycics code.
Compare the results from investigating the effects of the heat exchange radiation component inside the fuel pellet holes and in the gaps between the fuel and the fuel cladding using 2D and 3D models.
Investigate the effects of the radiation component for fuel elements with the same thermal power but with different levels of additional uranium235 enrichment and different fuel pellet hole diameters based on the maximum fuel and cladding temperature limits.
The VVER1000 reactor is designed to generate thermal energy at the expense of the nuclei fission chain reaction. Water is heated in the core due to heat release from the fuel elements.
A fuel element is a cylinder with a fuel column of the outer diameter 7.6 mm and the height 3.68 m made of uranium dioxide (UO_{2}). The UO_{2} fuel column is positioned coaxially inside the cladding of a zirconiumniobium alloy. The outer diameter of the tube is 9.1 mm, and the wall thickness is 0.65 mm. The gap between the fuel and the cladding is 0.1 mm. When the fuel element’s end plugs are sealed, its internal cavity is filled with helium up to a pressure of 2.0 MPa. The volumetric power density changes from 100 to 600 MW/m^{3} in steps of 100 MW/m^{3}.
The temperature of the fuel element with UO_{2} pellets shall not reach 1690 °C (1963 K). If the temperature exceeds this limit, the emission of gaseous products increases greatly (
The following conditions were assumed for solving the problem:
the thermophysical properties of UO _{2}, the Н1 zirconium alloy and helium depend on temperature;
the calculation is done for the fuel elements being in operation with the maximum thermal loading at the reactor center;
no effects of the liquid flow current pattern on the fuel element surface heat exchange are taken into account;
it is taken into account that the fuel burnup in fuel elements is uniform (a stationary problem).
To allow for the change in the thermophysical properties, data arrays are defined for heat conductivities as a function of temperature (
The following geometrical parameters were assumed for the study: rod halflength of
We shall present the initial and boundary conditions that define the solution.
Initial rod temperature
where
Ambient temperature
Secondorder boundary conditions on the rod ends:
where
Secondorder boundary conditions (adiabatic condition):
where
Thirdorder boundary condition on the rod’s side surface (
where
To found the coefficient of heat transfer, α, from the fuel cladding surface to the heated water, a formula is used in
Nu = A·Re^{0.8}·Pr^{0.4}, (9)
where Pr is the Prandtl criterion; Re is the Reynolds criterion; and
The empirical coefficient is found as follows:
A = [0.0165+0.02(10.91/(s/d)^{2}](s/d)^{0.15}, (10)
where
Reynolds criterion
Re = ω·d_{г}/ν, (11)
where ω is the average coolant velocity in the cell, m/s;
The hydraulic diameter of the regular triangular fuel element cell is computed as follows:
d_{г} = d[(2(3/π)^{0.5}(s/d)^{2}  1], (12)
where
The physical parameters are taken with the coolant temperature in the assembly’s regular cells being equal to the arithmetic mean value of the regular cell inlet and outlet coolant temperature value. Formula (12) is valid if 1.06 ≤
Secondorder boundary conditions for conductive heat exchange on the helium calculated region boundary:
7. Secondorder boundary conditions for conductive heat exchange on the fuel element calculated region boundary:
The study uses a heat conductivity equation with variable thermophysical properties of the fuel element materials. The heat conductivity equation is solved by the finite element method. It is taken into account in the heat conductivity equation that
∇(–λ∇
where λ is the heat conductivity coefficient, W/(m⋅K); and
For a homogeneous reactor, the specific power density through the volume is proportional to the neutron flux density and can be determined by the expression
where
An axially symmetrical model was built in the study. A half of the fuel element is considered to reduce the number of the mesh nodes and, as a sequence, the resources for its calculation. For a better visual effect, the radiusrelated dimensions are given in millimeters, and those related to the fuel element height are given in meters. The study was conducted based on the 2D and 3D models built and the fuel element temperature field calculation. The 3D models are solidbody.
To identify the extent to which the heat exchange will improve as the result of refueling, we shall undertake a numerical experiment with the UO_{2} replacement for uranium metal. The use of uranium metal in power is highly limited due to its swelling in the course of service and, therefore, by the low service temperature (≤ 500 °C).
The results of the numerical experiments to estimate the effects of specific power on the fuel element operating limits are presented in Table
Effects of specific power generated in one cubic meter of fuel
Specific power generated by one cubic meter of fuel, MW/^{m}3  100  200  300  400  500  600  1000 
Maximum UO_{2} fuel temperature, K  717.9  857.8  997.7  1137.6  1277.4  1417.3  1976.9 
Maximum UO_{2} cladding temperature, K  587.4  596.7  606.1  615.0  624.8  634.1  671.5 
Maximum uranium metal temperature, K  675  773.8  871  989.5  1067.4  1165.3  1556.8 
Uranium metal cladding temperature, K  587.4  596.7  606.1  615.0  624.8  634.1  671.5 
With internally generated energy, the fuel element service limit is reached as the fuel failure temperature is reached. For uranium metal, which is more heat conductive, the limit is reached at a temperature of 773 K and a specific power density of 200 MW/m^{3}.
An analysis of Fig.
Fuel and cladding temperatures as a function of specific power generated in one cubic meter of fuel: 1 – maximum temperature of UO_{2} fuel; 2 – maximum temperature of uranium metal; 3 – permissible fuel temperature for uranium metal; 4 – permissible temperature for fuel cladding of Н1 alloy; 5, 6 – maximum temperature for fuel cladding with UO_{2} and uranium metal fuel.
Improving the efficiency of the fuel element operation requires increasing the effective heat conductivity of fuel in the fuel element with which two types of heat exchange (conductive and radiative) are taken into account. To do this, it is necessary to estimate the effects of the radiative heat exchange inside the fuel hole on the temperature limits for the maximum temperature of using UO_{2} and the fuel cladding material.
The effects of radiative heat exchange were calculated using the COMSOL Multiphysics software package. It is taken into account by the “countergradient method”. We adopt the emissivity factor, which is approximate to the absolutely black body, for the external surfaces of the fuel pellet column, the fuel wall surfaces inside the fuel hole, and the cladding’s inner walls involved in the radiative heat exchange.
To allow for the boundary conditions in the 3D model, an “algorithm of radiative heat transfer from surface to surrounding space” is used. The ambient environment has a constant average temperature,
These assumptions make it possible to express the heat flux incident to the surface as
where
For the absorbed emissive heat flux from the surface to the surrounding space, the following equation is used:
where ε is the total emissivity of the body; and
Fig.
Maximum fuel temperatures (MFT) as a function of specific power generated in one cubic meter of fuel: 1 – permissible fuel temperature for UO_{2}; 2 – MFT without taking into account radiative heat exchange, K; 3 – MFT with taking into account radiative heat exchange in the gap between fuel and cladding, K; 4 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 2.3 mm without taking into account radiative heat exchange, K; 5 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 2.3 mm with taking into account radiative heat exchange, K; 6 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 2.3 mm with taking into account radiative heat exchange obtained on the 3D model, K.
An analysis of Fig.
Values of specific power density for a fuel element with a 2.3 mm hole taking into account the radiative heat transfer differ significantly when obtained using the 2D and 3D models. The difference is 222.87 MW/m^{3} (26.2%).
The calculation results for the hole diameter effects on the fuel temperature limit are presented in Fig.
Dependences of the maximum fuel temperatures (MFT) on specific power generated in one cubic meter of fuel obtained based on the 3D model taking into account radiative heat exchange: 1 – MFT for a fuel element with no hole, K; 2 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 1.5 mm, K; 3 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 2.3 mm, K; 4 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 3 mm, K; 5 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 4 mm, K; 6 – MFT for a fuel element with a hole of 5 mm, K; 7 – permissible fuel temperature for UO_{2}.
Dependences of the maximum fuel cladding temperatures on specific power generated in one cubic meter of fuel obtained based on the 3D model taking into account radiative heat exchange: 1 – for a fuel element with no hole, K; 2 – for a fuel element with a hole of 1.5 mm, K; 3 – for a fuel element with a hole of 2.3 mm, K; 4 – for a fuel element with a hole of 3 mm, K; 5 – for a fuel element with a hole of 4 mm, K, 6 – for a fuel element with a hole of 5 mm, K; 7 – permissible fuel cladding temperature.
A conclusion can be made from the diagrams that increasing the fuel pellet hole diameter moves away the boundary for the fuel and cladding temperature limits. This makes it possible to increase the fuel element specific power.
Table
Results from investigating the effects of the maximum specific fuel element power,
Pellet hole diameter, mm  0  1.5  2.3  3  4  5 
Q_{sp} for fuel temperature, MW/m^{3}  715  820  950  1118  1500  2275 
Q_{sp} for cladding temperature, MW/m^{3}  434  472  509  563  668  862 
Fuel volume in fuel element, m^{3}  1.67E4  1.60E4  1.52E4  1.41E4  1.21E4  9.47E5 
Share of increased uranium235 content in UО_{2} fuel for preserving energy margin in fuel element  1.000  1.040  1.100  1.180  1.380  1.760 
Q_{sp} for fuel temperature with similar energy margin inside fuel element, MW/m^{3}  715.0  788.5  863.6  947.5  1087.0  1292.6 
Q_{sp} for cladding temperature with similar energy margin inside fuel element, MW/m^{3}  434.0  453.8  462.7  477.1  484.1  489.8 
It can be seen from the table that an increase in the fuel pellet hole diameter leads to a reduction in the permissible fuel and cladding temperature limit.
Calculations show that an additional enrichment with uranium235 and an increase in the fuel pellet hole diameter reduces the reactor core axial power peaking factor with a fixed thermal power of the fuel element (
Fig.
Specific power generated in one cubic meter of fuel and in fuel cladding as a function of the fuel element hole diameter: 1 – permissible specific power generated in UO2 fuel; 2 – maximum specific power generated in a fuel element without permissible fuel cladding temperature being exceeded.
Following the approximation of the numerical simulation results, dependences of specific power generated in the fuel element on the fuel pellet hole diameter have been obtained as
The values of coefficients
Values of coefficients
Coefficient  Fuel (1)  Cladding (2) 


19.11  0 

18.76  11.56 

716.4  436.5 
It has been shown by the results of investigating the effects of the fuel pellet materials (UO_{2} uranium dioxide and U uranium metal) with different heat conductivity coefficients on the reactor core axial power peaking factor that the UO_{2} fuel replacement for uranium metal does not offer any advantages.
Calculations of the fuel element specific power confirm the effects of radiative heat exchange, and the percent difference in specific power with the radiative component of heat exchange taken and not taken into account amounts to 38.16 MW/m^{3} (6.1%).
The specific power density values obtained using the 2D and 3D models built for a fuel element with a hole of 2.3 mm, taking into account radiative heat exchange, differ noticeably in favor of the 3D model and the difference amounts to 222.87 MW/m^{3} (26.2%).
The best possible fuel element parameters have been found as the result of the study which ensure the smallest possible reactor core axial power peaking factor: the fuel pellet hole diameter is 5 mm, and the share of fuel enrichment with uranium235 has been increased by a factor of 1.76.
It has been found to be theoretically possible to increase the power of nuclear reactors by reducing the power peaking factor through the volume.
Russian text published: Izvestiya vuzov. Yadernaya Energetika (ISSN 02043327), 2023, n. 2, pp. 27–40.