Corresponding author: Gleb V. Karpovich ( gleb.karpovich@yandex.ru ) Academic editor: Georgy Tikhomirov
© 2019 Yury A. Kazansky, Gleb V. Karpovich.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Citation:
Kazansky YA, Karpovich GV (2019) Heterogeneous effects in simulating a fast nuclear reactor on the BFS test facility. Nuclear Energy and Technology 5(4): 345351. https://doi.org/10.3897/nucet.5.48426

Simulating fast neutron reactor cores for comparing experimental and calculated data on the reactor neutronics characteristics is performed using zero power test stands. The BFS test facilities in operation in Russia (Obninsk) are discussed in the present paper. The geometrical arrangement of materials in the cores of the simulated reactors (fuel pins, fuel assemblies, coolant geometry) differs from the simulation assembly on the BFS. This can cause differences between the experimental results obtained at the BFS and theoretical calculations even in the case when homogenized concentrations of all materials of the reactor are thoroughly observed. The resulting differences in neutronics parameters due to the geometry of arrangement of materials with the same homogeneous concentrations are referred to as the heterogeneous effect. Heterogeneous effects tend to increase with increasing reactor power and its size, mainly due to changes in the neutron spectra.
Calculations of a number of functional values were carried out for assessing the heterogeneous effects for different spatial arrangements of the reactor materials. The calculations were performed for the following cases: a) heterogeneous distribution of materials in accordance with the design of a fast reactor; b) heterogeneous arrangement of materials in accordance with the capabilities and design features of the BFS test facility; c) homogeneous representation of materials in the reactor core and breeding blankets.
The configuration of materials in accordance with the design data for fast reactors of the BN1200 type was accepted as the basic calculation option, relative to which the effect called the heterogeneous shift of the functional value (HSF) was calculated. The effect of neutron leakage on the HSF obtained as the result of calculations using different boundary conditions was estimated. All calculations were carried out for the same homogeneous concentrations of all materials for all the above three configurations. Calculations were carried out as well for the case when plutonium metal fuel was used in the BFS.
The values of the following functionals were calculated for different cases of arrangement of materials: the effective multiplication factor (reactivity), the sodium void reactivity effect, the average energy of fissioninducing neutrons, and the ratios of radioactive capture crosssections to fission crosssections for ^{239}Pu. The calculations were performed using the Serpent 2.1.30 (VTT, Finland) Monte Carlo software package for neutronics simulations and ENDF/BVII.0 and JEFF3.1.1 evaluated nuclear data libraries.
The effects of various options of material arrangement on the values of k_{eff} were found to be the greatest (about 1.6%) for the case when fissile material in the form of dioxide is replaced with metal fissile material. Homogenization of the composition reduces the k_{eff} value by about 0.4%.
The average energy of fissioninducing neutrons depends to a significant extent on the leakage of neutrons and the presence of sodium (the average energy of neutrons increases and reaches in the presence of sodium about 100 keV, that is, it increases by about 11–13%). Replacing fissile material metal with its dioxide in the BFS test facility (while maintaining homogeneous concentrations, including that of oxygen) allows reducing the average energy of fissioninducing neutrons by about 60 keV.
The highest values of HSF, reaching 65%, are observed when calculation of sodium void reactivity effect is performed with materials distributed homogeneously; however, HSF is equal to 1.5% when calculation of the reactor mockup assembled on the BFS is performed. In the absence of neutron leakage (infinitely extended medium), the sodium void reactivity effect becomes positive and the HSF is equal to 4–7%.
The heterogeneous effect of α for ^{239}Pu noticeably (6–8%) depends only on the replacement of metallic plutonium with its dioxide (maintaining, of course, the homogeneous concentrations).
Heterogeneous effect, simulation of nuclear reactors, critical test benches, fast reactor, BN, sodium void reactivity effect, neutronics calculations, MonteCarlo
Significant attention was devoted during the second half of the XXth century to the experimental studies of physics of fast nuclear reactors. Along with differential measurements of crosssections and their ratios as functions of neutron energies, integral studies performed using critical assemblies (test facilities) appeared, using which numerous integral characteristics, such as average crosssections and their ratios, critical parameters, control rod efficiencies, spatial distributions of neutron flux density, spectral distributions of neutron flux density, etc., were obtained. Critical assemblies had different names, different design approaches were applied, but, at the same time, all the test facilities embraced the same general idea – constructing universal instruments allowing simulating fast nuclear reactor cores with different geometries, nuclear fuel compositions, compositions and volume fractions of coolants, with internal and external nuclear fuel breeding blankets at minimum financial and time expenditures. Such test facilities were constructed in the USA (ZPR, ZPPR) (
At present, BFS critical assemblies continue to be actively operated in Russia. Consecutive chain of research and power fast neutron reactors BR5, BOR60, BN350, BN600, BN800 and BN1200 reactor currently under design were modeled using these test facilities.
Reactor mockup assembled on the test facility differs from the real reactor structure. One of the principal differences is the geometry of arrangement of nuclear fuel, coolant and structural materials. Wish to turn critical assemblies into universal testing instruments resulted in the design where the core of the reactor to be simulated and its breeding blanket are assembled from small blocks made of different materials. Effects of the differences in the geometry of arrangement of materials while keeping the homogenous concentrations unchanged are referred to in the present study as the heterogenous effects. Significance of heterogenous effects is the larger the ‘softer” is the spectralenergy distribution of the neutron flux density and the larger are the dimensions of the blocks of materials used in the critical assemblies. Heterogenous structures of arrangement of materials inside the commercial reactor core and in its mockup assembled at the BFS critical assembly are noticeably different. For nuclear fuel, the estimation of heterogeneity can be associated with the average value of the chord of the fuel pin expressed in the following form: 4V/S (where V is the volume of the fuel pin, S is its surface area). For nuclear fuel of sodiumcooled fast reactor average chord value amounts to about 0.7 cm; that for BFS fuel is equal for fissionable nuclei to 0.4 cm, and for uranium238 to 1.67 cm. In connection with the above, significant discrepancies can be found in the crosssection blocking effects in the region of resonance neutron absorption.
The purpose of the present study is to determine using calculation method heterogenous effects in modeling largesize fast BNtype reactor core on the BFS2 test facility by comparing the values of functionals calculated for different configurations of geometrical arrangement of materials. Besides the above, calculations were performed for defining the uncertainties of the estimations of functionals in the assumption of homogenous distribution of all materials, effects of neutron leakage and different representations of fissionable materials (metal or dioxide). The present study is the continuation of earlier studies. The distinguishing feature of the present study is the fact that the main emphasis is put not on the intercomparison between heterogenous and homogenous options, but, instead, on the comparison of two heterogenous options, namely the designed reactor structure and the reactor mockup assembled on the critical assembly, and on the obtaining the HSF values in modeling the BN1200type reactor on the BFS test assembly using contemporary evaluated nuclear data libraries.
Heterogenous effects for different critical assemblies were calculated, for example, in (
Ref. (
Reactivity coefficients for sodiumcooled fast reactors were investigated in (
Small perturbations induced by samples of materials after their introduction in the critical assembly with fast neutron spectrum were investigated in (
Calculations of BFS assemblies were compared in (
Important feature of Refs. (
Calculations were performed in the present study at temperature equal to 300 K and were implemented using the Serpent 2.1.30 (VTT, Finland) software complex (
One of the most important functionals is the effective neutron multiplication factor determining the reactivity margin which is sought to be made as low as possible. From the viewpoint of nuclear safety, it would be good to have the reactivity margin less than the effective fraction of delayed neutrons. Such problem is addressed in the design project of BREST300 reactor (
Average energy of fissioninducing neutrons is the important integral indicator for fast reactors. It is determined in the Serpent software complex as the arithmetic mean of energies of neutrons inducing fission of any nuclide.
Sodium void reactivity effect is the extremely important functional for estimating nuclear reactor safety features. Sodium void reactivity effect is significantly sensitive to its components, since it is the algebraic sum of the components producing effects with different signs – spectral, absorption and leakage components. The values of these components vary not proportionally when sodium is evacuated from the reactor core. Moreover, the sign of sodium void reactivity effect depends on the fuel composition and neutron leakage (
Breeding of fissionable materials depends to a considerable extent on the ratio of radiation absorption crosssection to fission crosssection α, measurement of which proves to be a complex enough problem. It is advisable to investigate the heterogenous effect for this functional as well.
In order to calculate the heterogenous effect due to the difference between the arrangement of materials in comparison with its counterpart in the design documentation, it is necessary to obtain the values of functionals for the following calculation models.
M1. Cell of the fuel assembly model with neutron leakage. Complete reactor core with all functional zones is modeled. “Black boundary” conditions, i.e. absorption of neutrons escaping the reactor core boundaries, is preset on the external boundaries of the functional zones. The calculation cell in this model and its dimensions are shown in Fig.
M2. Homogenized model of fuel assembly cells with neutron leakage. Complete reactor core with all functional zones is modeled. The model differs from model M1 (fuel assembly with neutron leakage) only by the homogenous representation of the arrangement of materials.
M3. Model of BFS cells with metal fuel load with neutron leakage. Complete reactor core with all functional zones is modeled. The mockup is assembled in the representation, which can be realized on the BFS test facility by using small blocks containing different materials. Similar to model M1 “black boundary” conditions are preset on external surfaces of the modeled system. Calculation cell in this model and its dimensions (
M4. Model of BFS cells with dioxide fuel load and with neutron leakage. Corresponds to the metalloaded BFS model; however, mixed uranium and plutonium oxides loaded in small blocks intended for loading plutonium metal and for loading uranium dioxide are used instead of plutonium metal. The difference between models M3 and M4 is illustrated in Fig.
Calculations were performed in order to establish the effects of neutron leakage on the HSF values for each of the models in the conditions of infinitely extended medium with composition corresponding to the compositions of cores for the options M1 – M4. Calculation models of the core without neutron leakage are indicated as M1^{∞} – M4^{∞}.
The socalled “lowbackground” plutonium (95.17% ^{239}Pu, 4.58% ^{240}Pu, 0.25% ^{241}Pu) (
Plutonium is used on BFS test facilities in the form of Pu metal ringshaped gaskets. At the same time, nuclear fuel in reactors is mainly used in the form of dioxide. Therefore, HSF values were calculated, as well, for the case of use of fuels in the BFS mockups in the form of pellets consisting of plutonium metal. Calculations were performed for establishing the effects produced on the HSF values with replacement of fuel pellets made of PuO_{2} with plutonium metal pellets and respective amount of oxygen.
Volume fractions of different materials (fuel, coolant, structural materials) for different functional zones of the reactor are presented in Table
Volume fractions of materials in different parts of the fuel assembly.
Fuel assembly section  Na  Steel  UО_{2} + PuО_{2} 
Lower gas void  0.298  0.231  – 
(0.97)  (7.85)  
Active section (AS), Lower axial blanket (LAB)  0.298  0.231  0.471 
(0.97)  (7.85)  (9.2 in the AS)  
(9.5 in the LAB)  
Sodium void  0.923  0.077  – 
(0.97)  (7.85) 
Heterogenous shifts of functionals presented in Tables
HSF values for the reactor loaded with plutonium metal taking into account neutron leakage.
Functional  HSF  
М1 model  M1 and M2 models  M1 and M3 models  M1 and M4 models  
K_{eff}  1.1167  –0.39%  +1.45%  + 0.45% 
(1.1123)  (1.1329)  (1.1217)  
Average energy of “fissioninducing” neutrons  807  –0.87%  +7.93%  +0.37% 
(800)  (871)  (810)  
Sodium void reactivity effect  –0.00783  –65%  +1.15%  +1.53% 
(–0.00274)  (–0.00792)  (–0.00795)  
α ^{239}Pu  0.295  0%  –8.14%  –0.34% 
(0.295)  (0.271)  (0.294) 
HSF(Ф_{i}) = (Ф_{i}_{,BFS}/Ф_{i}_{,FS}) – 1,
where Ф_{i}_{,FA} is the value of the functional calculated for the arrangement of the material according to the geometry corresponding to the reactor structure design; Ф_{i}_{,BFS} is the value of the functional calculated for the arrangement of the material according to the geometry corresponding to the BFS2 structure. Since concentrations of materials in the reactor core and in the BFS reactor mockup were maintained the same, the differences between the functionals for the reactor and the reactor mockup were explained by the different heterogenous arrangements of materials.
Values of HSF functionals calculated using the algorithm above are presented as well in each of the tables for the case of homogenous distribution of materials:
HSF(Ф_{i}) = (Ф_{i}_{,HOM}/Ф_{i}_{,FA}) – 1,
Ф_{i}_{,HOM} – is the value of the functional calculated for homogenous distribution of the materials.
HSF associated with homogenous distribution of materials provides the insight on the scale of uncertainties in engineering calculations not overburdened with fine details in the representation of structures of fuel pins and fuel assemblies.
Results of calculations of HSF values relative to the arrangement of materials is the design of the reactor fuel assemblies for different functionals and for three options of representation of the calculation conditions are presented in Table. For all the results of calculations the relative uncertainty including the uncertainties of the data from evaluated nuclear data libraries was equal to Δk_{eff} = 0.13%.
Let us note the following features of the obtained results.
HSF for the sodium void reactivity effect for the case of homogenous distribution of materials was found to be very high (–65%), and, therefore, calculating sodium void reactivity effect in homogenous representation is senseless. At the same time, HSF for the sodium void reactivity effect in heterogenous BFS compositions was found to be within the limits of 1.5%. This means that heterogenous compositions of fuel assemblies of BFS cells appear to be interchangeable enough in the calculations of sodium void reactivity effect. Shifting due to the heterogenous effect in the k_{eff} value by 0.4% leads to the change of reactivity margin by 10% (if the reactivity margin is equal to 4%).
HSF for all functionals calculated for M1 and M4 models reached 1.5% only for the values of sodium void reactivity effect; for all remaining cases, the values of HSF are within the limits of ±0.5%.
HSF values were found to be sensitive to the variation of chemical structure of plutonium (replacement of plutonium dioxide with plutonium metal) and, as the consequence, to the noticeably high HSF values when calculations are performed for M1 and M3 models. Here, HSF value for the average value of fissioninducing neutrons was found to be equal to +8%; and that for the α value – to –8%. The latter result must be taken into consideration, since the breeding gain is very sensitive to αvalues.
Neutron leakage affects the HSF values. Estimation of this effect was made on the basis of comparison of results of calculations for М1^{∞} – М4^{∞} models (see Table
HSF for reactor models without neutron leakage and power reactorgrade plutonium.
Functional  HSF  
M1^{∞} model  M1^{∞} and M2^{∞} models  M1^{∞} and M3^{∞} models  M1^{∞} and M4^{∞} models  
k_{eff}  1.2860  –0.58%  +1.94%  + 0.12% 
(1.2785)  (1.3109)  (1.2875)  
Average energy of “fissioninducing” neutrons, keV  744  –0.67%  +6.72%  –0.27% 
(739)  (794)  (742)  
Sodium void reactivity effect  +0.02894  +7.74%  –4.28%  –7.50% 
(+0.03118)  (+0.02770)  (0.02677)  
α ^{239}Pu  0.3023  –0.10%  –6.81%  +0.23% 
(0.3020)  (0.2817)  (0.3030) 
In the case of absence of neutron leakage (infinitely extended core) and homogenous material composition (M1^{∞} and M2^{∞} models) the highest HSF value corresponded to sodium void reactivity effect (about 7%). The highest HSF values were registered for all functionals in the case when plutonium is represented in the form of metal pellets in the calculation model of the BFS mockup.
Results of calculations of HSF with highbackground plutonium are presented in Table
HSF for reactor mockups with neutron leakage and highbackground plutonium load.
Functional  HSF  
M1_{HB} model  M1_{HB} and M2_{HB} models  M1_{HB} and M3_{HB} models  M1_{HB} and M4_{HB} models  
k_{eff}  1.2493  –0.28%  + 1.06%  + 0.46% 
(1.2458)  (1.2626)  (1.2551)  
Average energy of “fissioninducing” neutrons, keV  748  –0.67%  + 8.29%  +0.53% 
(743)  (810)  (752)  
Sodium void reactivity effect  –0.00844  –53.4%  +8.18%  +2.61% 
(–0.00393)  (–0.00913)  (–0.00866)  
α ^{239}Pu  0.2787  +0.18%  –8.32%  –0.39% 
(0.2792)  (0.2555)  (0.2776) 
Under similar calculation conditions, significant change of plutonium isotopic composition very weakly influenced the HSF values with exception of HSF for sodium void reactivity effect for the BFS mockup with plutonium metal load. This can be seen from the comparison of results in Tables
Authors express their gratitude to Professor V.A. Dulin and Associate Professor G.M. Pshakin for their comments and suggestions referring to the specific features of modeling using BFS test facilities.