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TRISO Fuel Performance: Modeling, Integration into Mainstream Design Studies, and Application to a Thorium-fueled Fusion-Fission Hybrid Blanket


This study focused on creating a new tristructural isotropic (TRISO) coated particle fuel performance model and demonstrating the integration of this model into an existing system of neutronics and heat transfer codes, creating a user-friendly option for including fuel performance analysis within system design optimization and system-level trade-off studies. The end product enables both a deeper understanding and better overall system performance of nuclear energy systems limited or greatly impacted by TRISO fuel performance. A thorium-fueled hybrid fusion-fission Laser Inertial Fusion Energy (LIFE) blanket design was used for illustrating the application of this new capability and demonstrated both the importance of integrating fuel performance calculations into mainstream design studies and the impact that this new integrated analysis had on system-level design decisions.

A new TRISO fuel performance model named TRIUNE was developed and verified and validated during this work with a novel methodology established for simulating the actual lifetime of a TRISO particle during repeated passes through a pebble bed. In addition, integrated self-consistent calculations were performed for neutronics depletion analysis, heat transfer calculations, and then fuel performance modeling for a full parametric study that encompassed over 80 different design options that went through all three phases of analysis. Lastly, side studies were performed that included a comparison of thorium and depleted uranium (DU) LIFE blankets as well as some uncertainty quantification work to help guide future experimental work by assessing what material properties in TRISO fuel performance modeling are most in need of improvement.

A recommended thorium-fueled hybrid LIFE engine design was identified with an initial fuel load of 20MT of thorium, 15% TRISO packing within the graphite fuel pebbles, and a 20cm neutron multiplier layer with beryllium pebbles in flibe molten salt coolant. It operated at a system power level of 2000 MWth, took about 3.5 years to reach full plateau power, and was capable of an End of Plateau burnup of 38.7 %FIMA if considering just the neutronic constraints in the system design; however, fuel performance constraints led to a maximum credible burnup of 12.1 %FIMA due to a combination of internal gas pressure and irradiation effects on the TRISO materials (especially PyC) leading to SiC pressure vessel failures. The optimal neutron spectrum for the thorium-fueled blanket options evaluated seemed to favor a hard spectrum (low but non-zero neutron multiplier thicknesses and high TRISO packing fractions) in terms of neutronic performance but the fuel performance constraints demonstrated that a significantly softer spectrum would be needed to decrease the rate of accumulation of fast neutron fluence in order to improve the maximum credible burnup the system could achieve.

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