Modification of the STACY Critical Facility for Experimental Study on Fuel Debris Criticality Control

Abstract For the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Stations, fuel debris involving molten structural materials should be retrieved from each reactor unit. The fuel debris, which is of uncertain chemical composition and physical state, needs to be treated with great care from the standpoint of criticality safety. For developing criticality control for the fuel debris, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has been planning to modify the Static Experiment Critical Facility (STACY) and to pursue critical experiments on fuel debris. STACY, a facility using solution fuel, is to be converted into a thermal critical assembly using fuel rods and a light water moderator. A series of critical experiments will be conducted at the modified STACY using simulated fuel debris samples. The simulated fuel debris samples are to be manufactured by mixing uranium oxide and reactor structural materials with various chemical compositions. This report summarizes a facility development project for an experimental study on criticality control for fuel debris using the modified STACY and simulated fuel debris samples.

Keywords Critical facility • Criticality control • Criticality safety • Fuel debris

• Fukushima Daiichi • Simulated fuel debris sample • STACY

Introduction

In the severe accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Stations (NPS), most of the fuel loaded in the cores of Units 1, 2, and 3 was seriously damaged and melted, resulting in a considerable amount of fuel debris [1]. It is believed that some parts of the fuel debris involve molten structural materials such as zircaloy, stainless steel, and concrete. This fuel debris, which contains much burned fuel, still continues to emit radiation and heat. For decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi NPS, all the fuel debris should be retrieved from the pressure and containment vessels of each reactor unit.

In preparation for retrieval of the fuel debris from the Fukushima Daiichi NPS, however, there remain the following serious problems: (1) leakage of cooling water from containment vessels, (2) inflow of groundwater into reactor buildings, (3) maintenance of subcritical state of the fuel debris, and (4) shielding of radiation from the fuel debris [2]. The cooling water of the fuel debris concerns these four problems. In a similar accident that occurred at Three Mile Island NPS Unit 2 (TMI-2), where its pressure vessel was not seriously damaged, all these problems were settled or did not arise because the pressure vessel could be filled with cooling water containing highly concentrated boron as a neutron absorber and radiation shield [3]. In contrast, all four problems make it extremely difficult to retrieve the fuel debris from each reactor unit of the Fukushima Daiichi NPS.

The fuel debris, which has uncertain chemical composition and physical state, needs to be treated with great care from the aspect of criticality safety. In particular, large blocks of fuel debris can cause a change in physical state, such as size and water content, when they are broken into fragments to be retrieved in cooling water. Furthermore, a recent study on fuel debris resulting from the molten core–concrete interaction has revealed its potential for criticality [4]. There will probably be no risk of a criticality accident if it is possible to keep a high concentration of boron in the cooling water and take the criticality control measures that were used in the TMI-2 accident. However, these measures will be difficult unless both (1) the leakage of cooling water and (2) the inflow of groundwater are completely stopped. If not, retrieval of the fuel debris will require alternative approaches to criticality control in cooling water or dry retrieval with radiation shielding.

The authors focus on the former approach: new criticality control measures for fuel debris, such as criticality safety standards and criticality monitoring methodology [5]. This report summarizes a facility development project for an experimental study on criticality control for fuel debris.

 
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