Sharp reduction in maximum fuel temperatures during loss of coolantaccidents in a PBMR DPP-400 core, by means of optimised placementof neutron poisons

17 March 2016

In a preceding study, coupled neutronics and thermo-hydraulic simulations were performed with the VSOP-A diffusion code for the standard 9.6 wt% enriched 9 g uranium fuel spheres in the 400 MWth Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Demonstration Power Plant. The axial power profile peaked at about a third from the top of the fuel core and the radial profile peaked directly adjacent to the central graphite reflector. The maximum temperature during a Depressurised Loss of Coolant (DLOFC) incident was 1581.0 °C, which is close to the limit of 1600 °C above which the leakage of radioactive fission products through the TRISO coatings around the fuel kernels may become unacceptable. This may present licensing challenges and also limits the total power output of the reactor. In this article the results of an optimisation study of the axial and radial power profiles for this reactor are reported. The main aim was to minimise the maximum DLOFC temperature. Reducing the maximum equilibrium temperature during normal operation was a lesser aim. Minimising the maximum DLOFC temperature was achieved by placing an optimised distribution of 10B neutron poison in the central reflector. The standard power profiles are sub-optimal with respect to the passive leakage of decay heat during a DLOFC. Since the radial power profile peaks directly adjacent to the central reflector, the distance that the decay heat needs to be conducted toward the outside of the reactor and the ultimate heat sink is at a maximum. The sharp axial power profile peak means that most of the decay power is concentrated in a small part of the core volume, thereby sharply increasing the required outward heat flux in this hotspot region. Both these features sharply increase the maximum DLOFC temperatures in this hotspot. Therefore the axial distribution of the neutron poisons in the central reflector was optimised so as to push the equilibrium power density profile radially outward and to suppress the axial power peak near the middle of the core, while increasing the power density near the top and bottom of the core. This resulted in a huge reduction in the maximum DLOFC temperature from 1581.0 °C to 1297.6 °C, which may produce far reaching safety and economic benefits. However, it came at the cost of a 22% reduction in the average burn-up of the fuel. In a separate optimisation attempt a much smaller, but still significant, reduction in the maximum equilibrium temperature, from 1023 °C down to 988 °C, was achieved