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Title: Submersion criticality safety of tungsten-rhenium urania cermet fuel for space propulsion and power applications

Nuclear thermal rockets are the preferred propulsion technology for a manned mission to Mars, and tungsten–uranium oxide cermet fuels could provide significant performance and cost advantages for nuclear thermal rockets. A nuclear reactor intended for use in space must remain subcritical before and during launch, and must remain subcritical in launch abort scenarios where the reactor falls back to Earth and becomes submerged in terrestrial materials (including seawater, wet sand, or dry sand). Submersion increases reflection of neutrons and also thermalizes the neutron spectrum, which typically increases the reactivity of the core. This effect is typically very significant for compact, fast-spectrum reactors. This paper provides a submersion criticality safety analysis for a representative tungsten/uranium oxide fueled reactor with a range of fuel compositions. Each submersion case considers both the rhenium content in the matrix alloy and the uranium oxide volume fraction in the cermet. The inclusion of rhenium significantly improves the submersion criticality safety of the reactor. While increased uranium oxide content increases the reactivity of the core, it does not significantly affect the submersion behavior of the reactor. There is no significant difference in submersion behavior between reactors with rhenium distributed within the cermet matrix and reactors with amore » rhenium clad in the coolant channels. The combination of the flooding of the coolant channels in submersion scenarios and the presence of a significant amount of spectral shift absorbers (i.e. high rhenium concentration) further decreases reactivity for short reactor cores compared to longer cores.« less
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Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
Journal ID: ISSN 0029-5493
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Nuclear Engineering and Design; Journal Volume: 273
Research Org:
Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Idaho Falls, ID (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States
99 GENERAL AND MISCELLANEOUS fuels; Propulsion; Tungsten-Based