Preliminary modelling of crack nucleation and propagation in SiC/SiC accident-tolerant fuel during routine operational transients using peridynamics

Abstract

Silicon carbide fibre in silicon carbide matrix composites (SiC/SiC) are a promising cladding for use in accident tolerant fuels (ATF) in current light water reactor (LWR) designs. However, as they are a radically different material from current metal clads, current thermomechanical simulation methods struggle to accurately predict their behaviour, especially regarding the potential development of cracks. Thus, a new peridynamic model for SiC/SiC cladding has been developed in the Abaqus finite element code. The material model was isotropic and considers matrix cracking and fibre pull-out. The thermal expansion, swelling and the degradation of the thermal conductivity are modelled under typical LWR irradiation conditions. The swelling on the outer surface is predicted to be greater than the inner surface due to the lower irradiation temperature, causing a tensile stress on the inside of the cladding; tension being more challenging for a ceramic than a metal. This stress increases during the decrease in power at the start of a typical pressurised water reactor refuelling outage and causes microcracking of the matrix on the cladding inner surface. In models without fibres, cracks would propagate through the cladding. If fibres are modelled, matrix cracking will extend to a depth of around 20% through the cladding from the inner surface, which is unlikely to be an acceptable design. If an inner monolith of SiC is additionally modelled, cracking propagates through the monolith and acts as a stress raiser for matrix cracking in the composite, and therefore does not constitute a design improvement. If an outer SiC monolith is modelled, fibre pull-out strain on the inner surface of the cladding was increased by just under 70%. No cracks are predicted in an outer monolith which may therefore remain gas-tight and thus a more suitable design. These predictions are consistent with experimental findings.

Publication
Journal of Nuclear Materials
Tom Haynes
Tom Haynes
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Mark Wenman
Mark Wenman
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Materials

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