Simulation of thermomechanical properties of U-PuO2 nuclear fuel under irradiation

Hector Balboa López 1
1 LM2T - Laboratoire de Modélisation de Thermodynamique et de Thermochimie
DPC - Département de Physico-Chimie : DEN/DPC/SCP/LM2T
Abstract : The objective of this doctoral research is to use a numerical approach to study the impact of irradiation damage on the microstructure of the mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuel (MOX). This numerical approach comprises mainly the use of Molecular Dynamics (MD) using empirical potential. Several empirical potentials for $(U,Pu)O_2$ can be found in the literature. The results of these potentials can exhibit significant differences. For this reason an extensive assessment of the main empirical potential found in the literature had to be performed.Five empirical interatomic potentials were assessed in the approximation of rigid ions and pair interactions for the $(U_{1-y},Pu_y)O_2$ solid solution. Simulations were carried out on the structural, thermodynamics and mechanical properties over the full range of plutonium composition, meaning from pure $UO_2$ to pure $PuO_2$ and for temperatures ranging from 300 K up to the melting point. The best results are obtained by potentials referred as Cooper and Potashnikov. The first one reproduces more accurately recommendations for the thermodynamics and mechanical properties exhibiting ductile-like behaviour during crack propagation, whereas the second one gives brittle behaviour at low temperature.From our results from the empirical potentials assessment, we can move to the radiation damage using only two potentials (Cooper and Potashnikov). In order to know the main source of defect during irradiation, MD displacement cascades were simulated. This revealed the damage created due to varying projectile energies. In addition, the Frenkel pair accumulation method was chosen to investigate the dose effect. This method circumvents the highly computing time demanding accumulation of displacement cascade by directly creating their final states, i.e. mainly point defects. Overall, results obtained with both potentials show the same trend. However, kinetics of point defect recombination are significantly slower with Cooper potential implying creation of small disordered region with high energy displacement cascades. The evolution of the primary damage with increasing dose follows the same steps as those found previously in pure $UO_2$. First, point defects are created. Subsequently, they cluster and form small Frank loops, which in turn transform and grow into unfaulted loops. We demonstrate also that increasing temperatures accelerate the production of dislocations shifting their creation to lower doses. The effect of the plutonium content is also evidenced, especially with Cooper potential. It shows that the dislocation density decreases when the plutonium content increases.Although, MD has been described as a molecular microscope due to its ability to discribe accuratily systems of atoms, it has a large drawback that is the short time steps of the order of femto-seconds needed to resolve the atomic vibrations. This limits the time typically few microsecond. In order to invetigate processess, such as, cation diffusion and rare-event annihilation of defects after cascaces, another computational tool is required. Atomistic or object kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC) techniques can run for longer timescales than MD. However, for KMC to work accurately, all of the possible inter-state transition mechanisms and their associated rates need to be known a priori. For this reason, the adaptive kinetic Monte Carlo (AKMC) is chosen to overcome these limitations. This method determines the available transition states during simulation. In this way, it takes the system into unforeseen states via complex mechanisms. The power and range of this tool proved to be efficient to discover cation Frenkel pair recombination over a longer periods of time than MD.
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Hector Balboa López. Simulation of thermomechanical properties of U-PuO2 nuclear fuel under irradiation. Nuclear Theory [nucl-th]. Université Paris-Saclay, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018SACLX108⟩. ⟨tel-01997747⟩

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