Reynolds Number Formula

Reynolds Number Formula

The Reynolds number is the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces and is a convenient parameter for predicting if a flow condition will be laminar or turbulent. It can be interpreted that when the viscous forces are dominant (slow flow, low Re) they are sufficient enough to keep all the fluid particles in line, then the flow is laminar. Even very low Re indicates viscous creeping motion, where inertia effects are negligible. When the inertial forces dominate over the viscous forces (when the fluid is flowing faster and Re is larger) then the flow is turbulent.

reynolds number

It is a dimensionless number comprised of the physical characteristics of the flow. An increasing Reynolds number indicates an increasing turbulence of flow.

The Reynolds number formula is:
Reynolds number

V is the flow velocity,
D is a characteristic linear dimension, (travelled length of the fluid; hydraulic diameter etc.)
ρ fluid density (kg/m3),
μ dynamic viscosity (Pa.s),
ν kinematic viscosity (m2/s);  ν = μ / ρ.

Charts: Viscosity and Density of Water (16MPa)
Viscosity of Water - 16MPa
Density of Water - 16 MPa

Laminar vs. Turbulent Flow

Laminar flow:

  • Re < 2000
  • ‘low’ velocity
  • Fluid particles move in straight lines
  • Layers of water flow over one another at different speeds with virtually no mixing between layers.
  • The flow velocity profile for laminar flow in circular pipes is parabolic in shape, with a maximum flow in the center of the pipe and a minimum flow at the pipe walls.
  • The average flow velocity is approximately one half of the maximum velocity.
  • Simple mathematical analysis is possible.
  • Rare in practice in water systems.

Turbulent Flow:

  • Re > 4000
  • ‘high’ velocity
  • The flow is characterized by the irregular movement of particles of the fluid.
  • Average motion is in the direction of the flow
  • The flow velocity profile for turbulent flow is fairly flat across the center section of a pipe and drops rapidly extremely close to the walls.
  • The average flow velocity is approximately equal to the velocity at the center of the pipe.
  • Mathematical analysis is very difficult.
  • Most common type of flow.
Classification of Flow Regimes
From a practical engineering point of view the flow regime can be categorized according to several criteria.

All fluid flow is classified into one of two broad categories or regimes. These two flow regimes are:

  • Single-phase Fluid Flow
  • Multi-phase Fluid Flow (or Two-phase Fluid Flow)

This is a basic classification. All of the fluid flow equations (e.g. Bernoulli’s Equation) and relationships that were discussed in this section (Fluid Dynamics) were derived for the flow of a single phase of fluid whether liquid or vapor. Solution of multi-phase fluid flow is very complex and difficult and therefore it is usually in advanced courses of fluid dynamics.

flow regimeAnother usually more common classification of flow regimes is according to the shape and type of streamlines. All fluid flow is classified into one of two broad categories. The fluid flow can be either laminar or turbulent and therefore these two categories are:

  • Laminar Flow
  • Turbulent Flow

Laminar flow is characterized by smooth or in regular paths of particles of the fluid. Therefore the laminar flow is also referred to as streamline or viscous flow. In contrast to laminar flow, turbulent flow is characterized by the irregular movement of particles of the fluid. The turbulent fluid does not flow in parallel layers, the lateral mixing is very high, and there is a disruption between the layers. Most industrial flows, especially those in nuclear engineering are turbulent.

The flow regime can be also classified according to the geometry of a conduit or flow area. From this point of view, we distinguish:

  • Internal Flow
  • External Flow

Internal flow is a flow for which the fluid is confined by a surface. Detailed knowledge of behaviour of internal flow regimes is of importance in engineering, because circular pipes can withstand high pressures and hence are used to convey liquids. On the other hand, external flow is such a flow in which boundary layers develop freely, without constraints imposed by adjacent surfaces. Detailed knowledge of behaviour of external flow regimes is of importance especially in aeronautics and aerodynamics.

Table from Life in Moving Fluids
Table of Reynolds Numbers
Table from Life in Moving Fluids: The Physical Biology of Flow by Steven Vogel
Example: Reynolds number for a primary piping and a fuel bundle
It is an illustrative example, following data do not correspond to any reactor design.

Pressurized water reactors are cooled and moderated by high-pressure liquid water (e.g. 16MPa). At this pressure water boils at approximately 350°C (662°F). Inlet temperature of the water is about 290°C (⍴ ~ 720 kg/m3). The water (coolant) is heated in the reactor core to approximately 325°C (⍴ ~ 654 kg/m3) as the water flows through the core.

Hydraulic Diameter
The hydraulic diameter of fuel rods bundle.

The primary circuit of typical PWRs is divided into 4 independent loops (piping diameter ~ 700mm), each loop comprises a steam generator and one main coolant pump. Inside the reactor pressure vessel (RPV), the coolant first flows down outside the reactor core (through the downcomer). From the bottom of the pressure vessel, the flow is reversed up through the core, where the coolant temperature increases as it passes through the fuel rods and the assemblies formed by them.


  • the primary piping flow velocity is constant and equal to 17 m/s,
  • the core flow velocity is constant and equal to 5 m/s,
  • the hydraulic diameter of the fuel channel, Dh, is equal to 2 cm
  • the kinematic viscosity of the water at 290°C is equal to 0.12 x 10-6 m2/s

See also: Example: Flow rate through a reactor core


  • the flow regime and the Reynolds number inside the fuel channel
  • the flow regime and the Reynolds number inside the primary piping

The Reynolds number inside the primary piping is equal to:

ReD = 17 [m/s] x 0.7 [m] / 0.12×10-6 [m2/s] = 99 000 000

This fully satisfies the turbulent conditions.

The Reynolds number inside the fuel channel is equal to:

ReDH = 5 [m/s] x 0.02 [m] / 0.12×10-6 [m2/s] = 833 000

This also fully satisfies the turbulent conditions.

Reactor Physics and Thermal Hydraulics:
  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. Todreas Neil E., Kazimi Mujid S. Nuclear Systems Volume I: Thermal Hydraulic Fundamentals, Second Edition. CRC Press; 2 edition, 2012, ISBN: 978-0415802871
  6. Zohuri B., McDaniel P. Thermodynamics in Nuclear Power Plant Systems. Springer; 2015, ISBN: 978-3-319-13419-2
  7. Moran Michal J., Shapiro Howard N. Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, Fifth Edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-470-03037-0
  8. Kleinstreuer C. Modern Fluid Dynamics. Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4020-8670-0.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, THERMODYNAMICS, HEAT TRANSFER, AND FLUID FLOW. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1, 2 and 3. June 1992.
  10. White Frank M., Fluid Mechanics, McGraw-Hill Education, 7th edition, February, 2010, ISBN: 978-0077422417

See above:

Fluid Dynamics