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News article6 February 2018

Study on Nuclear Materials simulating a Nuclear Power Plant Accident

© JRC European Commission

Major and severe accidents have occurred three times in nuclear power plants (NPPs), at Three Mile Island (USA, 1979), Chernobyl (former USSR, 1986) and Fukushima (Japan, 2011).

Research on the causes, dynamics, and consequences of these mishaps has been performed in a few laboratories worldwide in the last three decades. Common goals of such research activities are: the prevention of these kinds of accidents, both in existing and potential new nuclear power plants, the minimization of their eventual consequences and ultimately, a full understanding of the real risks connected with NPPs. The experimental approach presented in this work aims at answering some fundamental materials science questions relating to one of these risks, the occurrence of severe accidents (SAs) leading to core meltdown in a nuclear power plant (NPP). This can result in a possible release of highly-radioactive material in the environment, with severe consequences, both for people's health and the country's economy.

At the European Commission Joint Research, a laser-heating and fast radiance spectro-pyrometry facility is used for the laboratory simulation, on a small scale, of NPP core meltdown, the most common type of severe accident (SA) that can occur in a nuclear reactor as a consequence of a failure of the cooling system. This simulation tool permits fast and effective high-temperature measurements on real nuclear materials, such as plutonium and minor actinide-containing fission fuel samples. In this respect, and in its capability to produce large amount of data concerning materials under extreme conditions, the current experimental approach is certainly unique.

© JRC European Commission

Figure 1: Laser-heating and radiance spectro-pyrometry experimental set-up.

A video showing the experimental set-up, several example results and more information can be found here.


Publication date
6 February 2018