In the study of severe accidents of nuclear pressurized water reactors, the scenarios that describe the relocation of significant quantities of liquid corium at the bottom of the lower head are investigated from the mechanical point of view. In these scenarios, the risk of a breach and the possibility of a large quantity of corium being released from the lower head exist. This may lead to direct heating of the containment or outer vessel steam explosion. These issues are important due to their early containment failure potential.
Since the TMI-2 accident, many theoretical and experimental investigations, relating to lower head mechanical behaviour under severe thermo-mechanical loading in the event of a core meltdown accident have been performed. IRSN participated actively in the one-fifth scale USNRC/SNL LHF and OECD LHF (OLHF) programs. Within the framework of these programs, two simplified models were developed by IRSN: the first is a simplified 1D approach based on the theory of pressurized spherical shells and the second is a simplified 2D model based on the theory of shells of revolution under symmetric loading. The mathematical formulation of both models and the creep constitutive equations used are presented in detail in this paper. The corresponding models were used to interpret some of the OLHF program experiments and the calculation results were quite consistent with the experimental data.
The two simplified models have been used to simulate the thermo-mechanical behaviour of a 900MWe pressurized water reactor lower head under severe accident conditions leading to failure. The average transient heat flux produced by the corium relocated at the bottom of the lower head has been determined using the IRSN HARAR code. Two different methods, both taking into account the ablation of the internal surface, are used to determine the temperature profiles across the lower head wall and their effect on the time to failure is discussed. Using these simplified models, a graph representing the time to failure as a function of the pressure level and the heat flux intensity has been determined; such information will be used in our probabilistic safety assessment and severe accident management analyses. Another motivation for the development of simplified models in IRSN is to obtain a simplified but well-predicting code that can then be integrated into integral severe accident computer codes.