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Enhancing Nuclear Safety



Study of tearing behaviour of a PWR reactor pressure vessel lower head under severe accident loadings

Journal title : Nuclear Engineering and Design
Volume : 238
Issue : 9
Pagination : 2411-2419
Publication date : 01/09/2008


In PWR severe accident scenarios, involving a relocation of corium (core melt) into the lower head, the possible failure mode of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV), the failure time, the failure location and the final size of the breach are regarded as key elements, since they play an important part in the ex-vessel phase of the accident. Both the LHF and OLHF experiments as well as the FOREVER experiments revealed that initiation of the failure is typically local. For the case of a uniform temperature distribution in the lower head, crack initiation occurs in the thinnest region and for the case of a non-uniform temperature distribution, it initiates at the highest temperature region. These experimental results can be modelled numerically (but more accurately with 3D finite element codes). The failure time predictions obtained using numerical modelling agree reasonably well with the experimental values. However the final size of the failure is still an open issue. Analyses of both the LHF and OLHF experimental data (as well as of that from the FOREVER experiments) do not enable an assessment of the final size of the breach (in relation with the testing conditions and results). Indeed, the size of breach depends on the mode of crack propagation which is directly related to the metallurgical characteristics of the RPV steel. Small changes in the initial chemical composition of the vessel material can lead to different types of rupture behaviour at high temperatures. Different rupture behaviours were observed in the LHF and OLHF experiments using the SA533B1 steel. Similar observations were previously noticed during a CEA material characterization programme on the 16MND5 steel. To determine crack propagation and final failure size, 3D modelling would thus be needed with an adequate failure criterion taking into account the variability in behaviour of the RPV material at high temperatures. This paper presents an outline of the methodology being used in a current research programme of IRSN, in partnership with CEA and INSA LYON. The aim is to model crack opening and crack propagation in French RPV lower head vessels under severe accidents conditions. This programme was initiated in 2003 and is made up of five main sections, namely an inventory of the different French PWR lower head materials, metallurgical investigations to better understand the cause of mechanical behaviour variability that is observed and related to material microstructure, Compact-Tension testing of specimens to characterize the tear resistance of the material, validation of the modelling using experiments on tube specimens and the development of a new failure criterion for the 3D finite element models.


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