Using Coupled Mesoscale Experiments and Simulations to Investigate High Burn-Up Oxide Fuel Thermal Conductivity
Nuclear energy is a mature technology with a small carbon footprint. However, work is needed to make current reactor technology more accident tolerant and to allow reactor fuel to be burned in a reactor for longer periods of time. Optimizing the reactor fuel performance is essentially a materials science problem. The current understanding of fuel microstructure have been limited by the difficulty in studying the structure and chemistry of irradiated fuel samples at the mesoscale. Here, we take advantage of recent advances in experimental capabilities to characterize the microstructure in 3D of irradiated mixed oxide (MOX) fuel taken from two radial positions in the fuel pellet. We also reconstruct these microstructures using Idaho National Laboratory’s MARMOT code and calculate the impact of microstructure heterogeneities on the effective thermal conductivity using mesoscale heat conduction simulations. The thermal conductivities of both samples are higher than the bulk MOX thermal conductivity because of the formation of metallic precipitates and because we do not currently consider phonon scattering due to defects smaller than the experimental resolution. We also used the results to investigate the accuracy of simple thermal conductivity approximations and equations to convert 2D thermal conductivities to 3D. It was found that these approximations struggle to predict the complex thermal transport interactions between metal precipitates and voids.
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