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Sensitivity of UO2 fuel performance to microstructural evolutions driven by dilute additives

by Amani Cheniour, Ryan Sweet, Andrew T Nelson, Brandon A Wilson, Ashley E Shields
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Nuclear Engineering and Design
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Use of dilute additives to nuclear fuel is being considered to increase the security of commercial fuel management through traceability of fabricated fuel elements. Taggants, as additives are denoted when included for traceability purposes, may also improve fuel performance, as demonstrated in Cr-containing uranium dioxide as described in the literature, and they may also improve fuel safety. In fact, studies have shown that some additives affect fuel material properties such as grain size and density after sintering. Given the possible range of elements that could be used as additives, the impact of such fuel property variations on the fuel’s thermomechanical behavior becomes relevant. These effects can be evaluated through a sensitivity study of standard fuel models to analyze changes in these properties using a fuel performance code. In this work, the BISON code is being used to investigate these effects through a 2D axisymmetric model of smeared UO2 fuel pellets and ZIRLO® cladding under realistic pressurized water reactor core irradiation conditions. Randomly sampled densities and grain sizes within specified ranges are used as input parameters in the simulations, and several fuel model-related outputs are evaluated. The thermomechanical response of the cladding is also addressed in this study. The simultaneous variation of both input parameters offers a more comprehensive path to identify key sensitivities. Outputs explored include temperature, fission gas release, creep, and radial stress. Results show that although most of these outputs are sensitive to grain size to a certain extent, density mainly affects fuel temperature and elastic strain. Furthermore, sensitivities can vary depending on the radial position within the fuel pellet.