Most of PWRs
use the uranium fuel
, which is in the form of uranium dioxide
. Uranium dioxide is a black semiconducting solid with very low thermal conductivity
. On the other hand the uranium dioxide has very high melting point
and has well known behavior
. The UO2 is pressed into pellets
, these pellets are then sintered into the solid.
These pellets are then loaded and encapsulated within a fuel rod (or fuel pin), which is made of zirconium alloys due to its very low absorption cross-section (unlike the stainless steel). The surface of the tube, which covers the pellets, is called fuel cladding. Fuel rods are base element of a fuel assembly.
The thermal conductivity of uranium dioxide is very low when compared with metal uranium, uranium nitride, uranium carbide and zirconium cladding material. The thermal conductivity is one of parameters, which determine the fuel centerline temperature. This low thermal conductivity can result in localised overheating in the fuel centerline and therefore this overheating must be avoided. Overheating of the fuel is prevented by maintaining the steady state peak linear heat rate (LHR) or the Heat Flux Hot Channel Factor – FQ(z) below the level at which fuel centerline melting occurs. Expansion of the fuel pellet upon centerline melting may cause the pellet to stress the cladding to the point of failure.
Thermal conductivity of solid UO2 with a density of 95% is estimated by following correlation [Klimenko; Zorin]:
where τ = T/1000. The uncertainty of this correlation is +10% in the range from 298.15 to 2000 K and +20% in the range from 2000 to 3120 K.
Special reference: Thermal and Nuclear Power Plants/Handbook ed. by A.V. Klimenko and V.M. Zorin. MEI Press, 2003.
Special reference: Thermophysical Properties of Materials For Nuclear Engineering: A Tutorial and Collection of Data. IAEA-THPH, IAEA, Vienna, 2008. ISBN 978–92–0–106508–7.