During the decommissioning operations of the UNGG (Natural Uranium Graphite Gas) nuclear plants, the occurrence of undesirable phenomena, such as dust ignition and explosion, cannot be systematically neglected. In particular, graphite powders, pure or mixed with metals impurities present on the sites, such as magnesium or iron, can represent a potential risk that needs to be further evaluated.
This work falls within this context and has two main objectives: the experimental evaluation of the explosion severity and its modeling.
1. The experimental evaluation of the explosivity of such powders has been carried out both in terms of ignition sensitivity, of dust layer and cloud, and explosion severity. Actually, explosive characteristics of a dust or of a mixture are strongly influenced by several parameters. They depend on the one side on the operating conditions, such as turbulence, temperature and energy of the ignition source, and on the other side, of course, on the materials physicochemical properties and composition. This study focuses on pure micronized powders of graphite, magnesium, and iron and on their mixtures, in a concentration range of industrial interest. It has been demonstrated that the introduction of metals can change, first of all, the rate limiting step of the graphite combustion. Therefore, the kinetic phenomena controlling the graphite oxidation have been distinguished from those of metals (oxygen diffusion or metal vaporization). Secondly, the flame can be thickened by the presence of the radiation during the metal combustion, while this phenomenon is negligible for pure graphite. Finally, the initial turbulence of the dust cloud can be modified by adding a second powder because of the different granulometric characteristics and density. A parametric study was conducted to evaluate the mixtures explosivity taking into account the effects of the relative humidity, the particle size distribution of the powders, the power of the ignition source, the initial turbulence and the composition of the mixture. In order to do this, we used both conventional devices and technologies, such as 20-liters explosion sphere, the particles image velocimetry and the thermogravimetry, but also new facilities dedicated to the characterization of the transient turbulent flow during the dispersion of the powders in the explosion sphere and to study the propagation of a semi-confined flame. It was clearly demonstrated that the addition of metals influences the ability to ignite the dust cloud. The minimum ignition energy and temperature greatly decrease when magnesium powder is added to graphite dust; this phenomenon is less remarkable for iron particles. In addition, the severity of the explosion increases with such an addition. This promotion effect is particularly significant on the combustion kinetics.
2. The modeling of the explosive phenomenon has been performed using numerical simulations in order to estimate a laminar flame propagation velocity and to study the effects induced by specific factors of industrial interest, such as the particle size or the powder concentration. The interest in determining a laminar flame velocity is its pseudo-intrinsic character. Once known the turbulent characteristics of a complex industrial environment, this parameter gives the opportunity to obtain a turbulent flame propagation velocity in a real environment and, therefore, to estimate the effects of a potential explosion. Experimental results were used to validate the numerical model developed during this work.