Development and implementation of a finite element solution of the coupled neutron transport and thermoelastic equations governing the behavior of small nuclear assemblies
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Small, highly enriched reactors designed for weapons effects simulations undergo extreme thermal transients during pulsed operations. The primary shutdown mechanism of these reactors -- thermal expansion of fuel material -- experiences an inertial delay resulting in a different value for the fuel temperature coefficient of reactivity during pulse operation as compared to the value appropriate for steady-state operation. The value appropriate for pulsed operation may further vary as a function of initial reactivity addition. Here we design and implement a finite element numerical method to predict the pulse operation behavior of Sandia Pulsed Reactor (SPR) II, SPR III, and a hypothetical spherical assembly with identical fuel properties without using operationally observed data in our model. These numerical results are compared to available SPR II and SPR III operational data. The numerical methods employed herein may be modified and expanded in functionality to provide both accurate characterization of the behavior of fast burst reactors of any common geometry or isotropic fuel material in the design phase, as well as a computational tool for general coupled thermomechanical-neutronics behavior in the solid state for any reactor type.