Debris Fretting – Grid-to-rod Fretting

Nuclear Fuel - TemperaturesFuel cladding is the outer layer of the fuel rods, standing between the reactor coolant and the nuclear fuel (i.e. fuel pellets). It is made of a corrosion-resistant material with low absorption cross section for thermal neutrons (~ 0.18 × 10–24 cm2), usually zirconium alloy. Cladding prevents radioactive fission products from escaping the fuel matrix into the reactor coolant and contaminating it. Cladding constitute one of barriers in ‘defence-in-depth‘ approach, therefore its coolability is one of key safety aspects.

Loss of Tightness of Fuel Cladding – Fuel Reliability

Cladding prevents radioactive fission products from escaping the fuel matrix into the reactor coolant and contaminating it. Emergence of a leak in that cladding results in:

  • the transport of specific chemical elements (fission products) that are stable, and radioactive (iodine, xenon, krypton…) into the reactor’s primary circuit
  • deposits of long-lived isotopes (cesium, strontium, technetium…), or even, in exceptional circumstances, of alpha emitters onto the piping of the primary circuit, or of ancillary circuits
  • an increase in the overall level of irradiation for that circuit, from the level already due to activation products (corrosion products, e.g. cobalt, chromium, iron in particular)

A leak thus poses a major challenge in operational terms, for a power plant operator, since it has a direct bearing on the level of radiological exposure workers are subjected to, when running the plant, or carrying out maintenance. Although fuel failures have rarely been a safety related issue, their impact on plant operational costs due to:

  • premature fuel discharge,
  • following cycle shortening,
  • possible unscheduled outages,
  • increased spent fuel volume

One of the necessary steps to reach the zero defect goal is to understand the root causes of the failures and their mechanisms, so that some corrective actions can be implemented, either through improvements in fuel design and fabrication by fuel suppliers, or operational changes, such as reduced power maneuvering.

Special Reference: CEA, Nuclear Energy Division. Nuclear Fuels, ISBN 978-2-281-11345-7

Debris Fretting – Grid-to-rod Fretting

There are various fuel failure root causes, that have been identified in past. In the early dates of PWR and BWR operations, these causes were predominantly fabrication defects or fretting. Fretting was one of main failure mechanisms in the early dates of PWR and BWR operations. It has typically two variants.

  • Debris fretting. Debris fretting can be caused by any debris (foregn material – usually metallic) that can enter the fuel bundle and that has the potential of becoming lodged between the spacer grid and a fuel rod. Fretting wear of fuel cladding can results in cladding penetration.
  • Grid-to-rod fretting. Grid-to-rod fretting arises from vibration of the fuel element generated by the high coolant
    velocity through the spacing grid. Spacing grids are welded onto the guide tubes and ensure, by means of springs and dimples, fuel rod support, and spacing. High coolant velocity can cause the rod to rub against the part of the spacer grid
    that holds it. This type of cladding wear can be minimized by proper design of the spacing grid. Baffle-jetting is usually grouped under grid-to-rod fretting.

See also: IAEA, Review of fuel failures in water cooled reactors. No. NF-T-2.1. ISBN 978–92–0–102610–1, Vienna, 2010.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:
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      6. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
      7. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
      8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

      1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
      2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
      3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2. 
      4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.

See above:

Fuel Cladding