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Experimental Study on Criticality Control for Fuel Debris

Modification of STACY

To implement the new criticality control measures for fuel debris, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has been carrying a project to modify the Static Experiment Critical Facility (STACY) to pursue critical experiments on fuel debris [6]. STACY, a facility using solution fuel (low-enriched uranyl nitrate), is to be converted into a thermal critical assembly using fuel rods and a light water moderator. n the modified STACY, the core configuration consists of fuel rods loaded in the core tank (up to 900 rods) and light water fed as moderator. Because the maximum thermal power is only 200 W, fuel burn-up is negligibly small and cooling water is unnecessary. The reactivity of the core is controlled not with control rods but by water level, and with safety plates (cadmium) in the case of emergency shutdown, similar to the present STACY. The fuel rods contain 5 wt.%-enriched UO2 pellets and have zircaloy cladding. A soluble neutron poison (boron) can be added to the light water moderator. Major core specifications and a schematic diagram of the modified STACY are shown in Table 22.1 and Fig. 22.1, respectively.

Table 22.1 Major core specifications of the modified Static Experiment Critical Facility (STACY)

Item

Present STACY

Modified STACY

Core tank

Closed tank

Open tank

Replaceable (cylinder, slab, heterogeneous, interaction)

Cylinder (1.8 m in diameter,

1.9 m in height)

Core size

Same as each core tank

Maximum 60 cm x 90 cm

Critical height 40–140 cm

Critical height 40–140 cm

Maximum thermal power

200 W

200 W

Maximum integrated power

100 W • h/operation, 300 W • h/week, 3 kW • h/year

100 W • h/operation,

300 W • h/week, 3 kW • h/year

Fuel

Fuel solution

6-, 10 wt.%-enriched uranyl nitrate solution

Not used

Maximum concentration

500 gU/l

Fuel rods

5 wt.%-enriched UO2 pellets

5 wt.%-enriched UO2 pellets (<10 wt.% available)

Cladding

Zircaloy cladding (9.5 mm in diameter, 150 cm in length)

Zircaloy cladding (9.5 mm in diameter, 150 cm in length)

Maximum loading

400 rods

900 rods

Volume ratio of moderator to fuel (lattice pitch of fuel rods)

1.9–15 (13.0–29.0 mm)

0.9–11 (10.9–25.5 mm)

Moderator

Solution fuel

Light water

Temperature

Room temperature ~40 oC

Room temperature ~70 oC

Reactivity control

Solution level

Water level

Maximum excess reactivity

0.2 dollar in normal operation

0.3 dollar in normal operation

0.8 dollar in abnormal transient

0.8 dollar in abnormal transient

Maximum reactivity addition rate

3 cent/s

3 cent/s

Emergency shutdown

Insertion of safety plates

Insertion of safety plates

Drain of fuel solution

Drain of light water moderator

Shutdown margin

<0.985 in keff

<0.985 in keff

One-rod stuck margin

<0.995 in keff

<0.995 in keff

Fig. 22.1 Schematic diagram of the modified Static Experiment Critical Facility (STACY)

Critical Experiments on Criticality Safety for Fuel Debris

The JAEA research program includes computation of criticality characteristics covering a wide range of fuel debris conditions and validation of the computation by critical experiments. In the former activity, several data sets will be systematically obtained by calculation to establish new criticality safety standards for fuel debris. The new standards will be provided as “criticality maps” that indicate subcritical and critical conditions. The maps also show supercritical conditions that would likely lead to a significant threat of human injury [7]. In the latter activity, the new standards (including computation models) will be validated regarding reactivity worth, coefficients of reactivity, and critical mass by critical experiments with simulated fuel debris samples. A criticality monitoring methodology will also be studied to improve the criticality control measures for fuel debris. To pursue the aforementioned critical experiments, the core of the modified STACY has a widely distributed neutron energy spectrum between thermal reactor spectra and intermediate reactor spectra. The neutron energy spectrum of the core can be varied by the lattice pitch of the fuel rods, which range from 10.9 to 25.5 mm, corresponding to a moderator-to-fuel volume ratio ranging from 0.9 to 11. Typical neutron energy spectra of the modified STACY are shown in Fig. 22.2 [8].

Fig. 22.2 Neutron energy spectrum of the modified STACY core

This figure also shows typical spectra of hypothetical fuel debris of a BWR fuel pellet (3.7 wt.% 235U, 27.5 GWd/t, 5-year-cooled), for comparison. Both spectra were calculated using a burn-up code, ORIGEN2 [9], and a Monte Carlo code, MVP2 [10], with a nuclear data library, JENDL-3.3 [11]. It can be seen in Fig. 22.2 that the core spectrum with a lattice pitch of 10.9 mm is equivalent to the debris spectrum in 50 vol.% water. The core spectrum of the modified STACY can cover relatively hard spectra of the fuel debris likely to become critical.

For the measurement of the neutronic characteristics of fuel debris, two sets of experimental equipment should be prepared: one includes reactor material structures simulating fuel debris (zircaloy, stainless steel, concrete, etc.), which are pin-, plate-, or box type and are loaded between fuel rods. The other is a sample-loading device to measure its reactivity and which is installed at a test region in the core tank. The experimental equipment is shown in Fig. 22.3.

Manufacturing and Analytical Equipment for Simulated Fuel Debris Samples [12]

The simulated fuel debris samples (sintered pellets) are to be manufactured by mixing UO2 and reactor structural materials (Zr, Fe, Si, Gd, B, etc.) with various chemical compositions. These debris materials will be mixed in the form of oxide

Fig. 22.3 Experimental equipment for simulated fuel debris samples

powders. The manufacturing equipment for the debris samples is composed of a ball mill, compacting machine, and sintering furnace. The debris samples will be analyzed destructively or nondestructively to determine nuclide composition, O/U ratio, density, and impurities. The manufacturing ability is to be 300 pellets a month. The analytical precision is still a matter under consideration. The manufacturing and analytical equipment are to be installed in glove boxes in the experimental building adjoining the modified STACY.

License Application and Schedule of the STACY Modification

The license application for the STACY modification was sent in February 2011 and has been under safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) of Japan to comply with new safety standards for research reactors enforced in December 2013 [13]. In particular, the NRA will strictly demand prevention measures against natural disasters such as a tsunami from all reactors located at a low altitude. The modified STACY, the reactivity of which is controlled by water level, has a risk of criticality accidents for the duration of tsunami attacks. The prevention measures

Fig. 22.4 Schedule of the STACY modification. CV containment vessel

against criticality accidents are important requirements for the modified STACY: for example, limitation of the core configuration together with the safety plates inserted so as to keep a subcritical state during submersion.

A schedule of the STACY modification is shown in Fig. 22.4. The first criticality experiment in the modified STACY is scheduled for 2018. The modified STACY will provide benchmark data on criticality safety for fuel debris to validate the criticality control measures applicable to the Fukushima Daiichi NPS. The new criticality control measures need to be established by the time the fuel debris begins to be retrieved from each reactor unit of the Fukushima Daiichi NPS. According to the governmental council, retrieval of the fuel debris is scheduled to start as early as 2020, depending on the progress in the decommissioning of each reactor unit [2].

Concluding Summary

For the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1, 2, and 3, research and development activities have been pursued to retrieve fuel debris from the pressure and containment vessels of each reactor unit. In preparation for the retrieval, however, there remain serious problems concerning the cooling water of fuel debris from the aspect of criticality safety.

To study the new criticality control measures for the fuel debris, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has carried forward a project to modify the Static Experiment Critical Facility (STACY) and to pursue critical experiments regarding the 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 in the modified STACY using simulated fuel debris samples. These samples are to be manufactured by mixing UO2 and reactor structural materials with various chemical compositions.

The license application for the STACY modification has been under safety review. The first criticality experiment in the modified STACY is scheduled for 2018. The modified STACY will provide benchmark data on criticality safety for fuel debris to validate the new criticality control measures applicable to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Stations.

 
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