The ability of coated particles of enriched uranium dioxide (UO2) fuel to withstand high temperatures and contain the fission products in the case of a loss of cooling event is a vital passive safety measure over traditional nuclear fuel requiring active safety systems to provide cooling. As a possible solution towards enhancing the safety of light-water reactors (LWRs), it is envisaged that the fuel in the form of loose-coated particles in a helium atmosphere can be introduced inside Silicon-Carbide nuclear reactor fuel cladding tubes of the fuel elements. The coated particles in this investigation were treated as a bed from where heat was transferred to the cladding tube by means of helium gas and the gas movement was by natural convection. Hence, it is proposed that light-water reactors (LWR) could be made safer by redesigning the fuel in the fuel assembly (see Fig. 1.3b).
As a first step towards the implementation of this proposal, a proper understanding of the mechanisms of heat transfer, fluid flow and pressure drop through a packed bed of spheres during natural convection was of utmost importance. Such an understanding was achieved through a review of existing literature on porous media. However, most heat transfer correlations and models in heated packed beds are for forced convectional conditions and as such characterise porous media as a function of Reynolds number only rather than expressing media heat transfer performance as a function of thermal properties of the bed in combination with the various components of the overall heat transfer. The media heat transfer performance considered as a function of thermal properties of the bed in the proposed design is found to be a more appropriate approach than the media as a function of Reynolds number.
The quest to examine the particle-to-fluid heat transfer characteristics expected in the proposed new fuel design led to implementing this research work in three phases, namely experimental, theoretical and numerical simulation. An experimental investigation of fluid-to-particle natural convection heat transfer characteristics in packed beds heated from below was carried out. Captured data readings from the experiment were analysed and heat transfer characteristics in the medium evaluated by applying the first principle heat transfer concept. A basic unit cell (BUC) model was developed for the theoretical analysis and applied to determine the heat transfer coefficient, h, of the medium. The model adopted a concept in which a single unit of the packed bed was analysed and taken as representative of the entire bed; it related the convective heat transfer effect of the flowing fluid with the conduction and radiative effect at the finite contact spot between adjacent unit cell particles. As a result, the model could account for the thermophysical properties of sphere particles and the heated gas, the interstitial gas effect, gas temperature, contact interface between particles, particle size and particle temperature distribution in the investigated medium. Although the heat transfer phenomenon experienced in the experimental set-up was a reverse case of the proposed fuel design, the study with the achievement in the validation with the Gunn correlation aided in developing the appropriate theoretical relations required for evaluating the heat transfer characteristics in the proposed nuclear fuel design.
A slender geometrical model mimicking the proposed nuclear fuel in the cladding was numerically simulated to investigate the heat transfer characteristics and flow distribution under the natural convective conditions anticipated in beds of randomly packed spheres (coated fuel particles) using a commercial code. Random packing of the particles was achieved by discrete element method (DEM) simulation with the aid of Star CCM+ while particle-to-particle and particle-to-wall contacts were achieved through the combined use of the commercial code and a SolidWorks CAD package. Surface-to-surface radiative heat transfer was modelled in the simulation reflecting real-life application. The numerical results obtained allowed for the determination of parameters such as particle-to-fluid heat transfer coefficient, Nusselt number, Grashof number and Rayleigh number. These parameters were of prime importance when analysing the heat transfer performance of a fixed bed reactor.
A comparison of three approaches indicated that the application of the CFD combined with the BUC model gave a better expression of the heat transfer phenomenon in the medium mimicking the heat transfer in the new fuel design