Present Condition of 1FNPS Fuel Debris

Fuel assemblies with the design called “BWR STEP 3” had been loaded in the reactors. Each new fuel assembly contains six kinds of uranium dioxide (UO2) fuel (Fig. 21.1, Table 21.1). The most popular initial 235U/U enrichment in the fuels is

4.4 wt%, whose inventory per assembly is 76.8 kgU. The fuel of 9.6 kgU per assembly has the highest initial enrichment of 4.9 wt%. The initial uranium inventory in total is 170.9 kgU per assembly, including fuels of other enrichments and of the UO2-gadolinium oxide (Gd2O3) composite [4].

The Unit 1 reactor in 1FNPS had 400 assemblies, which consisted of six batches of burn-up. Each of the Unit 2 and 3 reactors had 548 assemblies of five batches. Among these assemblies, 64 in the Unit 1 reactor, and 116 in the Unit 2 reactor, had a low burn-up of only 3–5 GWD/t (Table 21.2). Other assemblies of the same number are older but still have a burn-up as low as 15–16 GWD/t. The oldest assemblies have a burn-up of about 40 GWD/t [5].

Fig. 21.1 Benchmark model of the BWR STEP3 fuel assembly

The condition of the fuel debris has not yet been identified in any reactor except estimations by severe accident analysis codes. Study of the TMI-2 fuel debris [6], however, suggests that various kinds of fuel debris may also be produced in the 1FNPS reactors, such as hard and loose debris. Especially, loose debris may show a wide variety of composition including structural materials such as Zircaloy and

Table 21.1 Initial uranium inventory in a boiling water reactor (BWR) STEP 3 fuel assembly

Table 21.2 Burn-ups of fuel assemblies in the 1FNPS reactors

a16 MOX assemblies included

steel. Boron originating from the control rods cannot be expected necessarily to coexist with the fuel debris. It is also possible that the fuel debris in CVs has been generated through the molten core–concrete interaction (MCCI). It must be considered that the fuel debris is not uniform and will be found at various locations.

The fuel debris is being cooled with nonborated water although it is highly preferable to add neutron poison and to maintain enough concentration in the water to secure the subcritical condition such as was performed after the TMI-2 accident. Boration is not realistic at present because of the coolant water leakage from CVs and underground water inflow to the coolant water circulation. Boron will be injected only in the event of re-criticality [7].

Criticality Characteristics of Fuel Debris

The criticality safety handbook shows the minimum critical masses of homogeneous uranium-water mixtures, 36 and 53 kg, respectively for the 235U/U enrichments of 5 and 4 wt%. Mass control limits that can avoid criticality are also given for heterogeneous UO2-water composites, that is, 28 kg for the 5 wt% enrichment. Even for the 3 wt% enrichment, its mass limit is still 67 kg [8]. These numbers are small compared to the possible uranium inventory in each fuel assembly with low burn-up.

Fuel debris may exist as composites of UO2 and structural materials such as Zircaloy and steel in the pressure vessels (PVs). Zircaloy does not greatly affect the criticality characteristics of fuel debris because of its small neutron absorption cross ection, but the iron in steel may increase the critical mass of fuel debris because it has strong neutron absorption.

The MCCI product would be a composite of UO2 and concrete. The major content of concrete is silicon dioxide, which has also a small neutron absorption cross section and neutron moderation capability. The critical mass of the UO2– concrete composite has been evaluated as 400 kg for the fresh UO2 of 5 wt% 235U/U enrichment. For the fuel burned up to 12 GWD/t, the critical mass can be as small as 800 or 2,000 kg, depending on how the effect of fission products is considered. Only the water bonded in concrete is considered in the evaluation; therefore, the critical masses can be smaller when the MCCI product is submerged in the coolant water [9]. The mass of 2,000 kg is equivalent to 12 fuel assemblies. It is also known that a certain cluster of 16 assemblies in the Unit 2 reactor has an average burn-up of about 14 GWD/t. Thus, this evaluation is not far from reality.

Before knowing the actual condition of fuel debris, it is possible to compute critical conditions. Such work has been already conducted for many years to produce a handbook or a database for criticality safety. It is easy to extend these standards to wider conditions such as UO2–steel composite or UO2–concrete composite. The computation will supply a new set of “criticality maps of fuel debris.” These maps will indicate (Fig. 21.2) subcritical and critical conditions, and supercritical conditions that would likely bring severe consequences. In Fig. 21.2, the horizontal line represents variation of composition, and the vertical line represents variation of geometry. Composition on the right has higher reactivity and smaller critical volume. On the left, the composition is certainly subcritical, which can be excluded from the criticality control.

The actual criticality situation will be assessed by placing onto the map the fuel debris condition revealed by observations or sample analyses. It is also necessary to study how the condition can move on this map from expected changes such as temperature drop in the fuel debris or geometry changes caused by retrieval work of fuel debris, etc.

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