Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 06-19-2019, 08:26 AM
jjakucyk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Cincinnati
Posts: 445

Chernobyl Control Rod Graphite "Tips"


It seems the straw that broke the camel's back at Chernobyl was the "positive SCRAM effect" caused by the graphite "tips" on the control rods. Of course they're not really tips (we'll use the term displacers going forward), as they're nearly as tall as the control rods themselves and the reactor core as a whole, with a critical 1.25M column of water above and below. There's a good diagram here: http://accidont.ru/ENG/rodes.html even though the text is poorly translated, and the Vlogbrothers also put together a great video with a similar diagram here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIGtTImeYU4 that show the position of the control rods, the displacers, and the relative neutron flux/reactivity distributed over the height of the core.

What I can't understand, not being a nuclear physicist myself is why the neutron flux went so high at the bottom of the reactor when the rods were inserted. The graphs show a huge spike in reactivity when the bottom of the displacers are aligned with the bottom of the reactor core (position "c" in the accident.ru diagram). I understand why the reactivity goes up there, because neutron-moderating graphite is replacing neutron-absorbing water, but I don't understand why the reactivity goes up apparently an order of magnitude or more compared to what, in my mind, is exactly the same condition as in the center of the reactor. I would think that it would only shift the graph shown in position "a" downward, removing the falloff at the end. Even the "bulge" at position "b" is a bit of a head-scratcher to me because for most of the height of the reactor the displacer is still in the same position it's always been.

Is this a temporal issue, where if the rod insertion was stopped at position "c" under normal circumstances, that flux spike would equalize after some period of time, perhaps even a very short time? Was steam being generated at the bottom of the reactor rather than at the top (how?), causing the positive void coefficient to become apparent here but not yet in the rest of the reactor? Is it because the xenon poisoning was concentrated in the center of the reactor (thus the slight decrease in flux shown in graph "a" at center as compared to 80% top or bottom), so the little bit of extra reactivity caused by the water displacement caused runaway reactivity due to the xenon being burned off? Help me out here. This is the one and only bit of the situation I haven't been able to wrap my head around.
  #2  
Old 06-19-2019, 09:17 AM
Frankenstein Monster is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Europe
Posts: 730
Not a reactor expert either but I think that picture is not of the reactivity of the reactor but the neutron flux.

The higher the neutron flux, the higher the increase in neutron flux in response to a small increase in reactivity.

A large contributing factor to the accident was the large axial difference in power distribution in the core at the time of the accident. Spatial power differences in a large core like RBMK were already "difficult" to control. (That is, it worked well during normal operation but was very much amplified during the conditions prior to the accident.) The accident happened when a small amount of extra reactivity was added to a region that already had an extra large power distribution and extra large positive void coefficient.

Remember that the "problem" of the extra reactivity due to the graphite displacers was known but not thought to be very important, since the reactor was not supposed to be anywhere near the state it was in during the accident.

IAEA report
  #3  
Old 06-19-2019, 09:33 AM
Frankenstein Monster is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Europe
Posts: 730
Quote:
Originally Posted by jjakucyk View Post
Was steam being generated at the bottom of the reactor rather than at the top (how?), causing the positive void coefficient to become apparent here but not yet in the rest of the reactor? Is it because the xenon poisoning was concentrated in the center of the reactor (thus the slight decrease in flux shown in graph "a" at center as compared to 80% top or bottom), so the little bit of extra reactivity caused by the water displacement caused runaway reactivity due to the xenon being burned off?
Basically yes, that's what the aforementioned IAEA report says.

Quote:
Originally Posted by IAEA report
This situation in extreme conditions can be highly
unstable, because small spatial redistributions of reactivity can cause large spatial
redistributions of the power. One manifestation of this decoupling of the core is that
just prior to the accident the chain reactions in the upper and lower halves of the reactor
were proceeding almost independently, a situation that was exacerbated by heavy
xenon poisoning in the intervening central region. When control and safety rods were
inserted from fully withdrawn positions under these circumstances, the positive
scram effect discussed earlier could cause the lower part of the core to become
supercritical and the neutron distribution to shift quickly downwards irrespective of
the distribution just prior to rod insertion. Under the conditions of the accident, the
shift in power distribution resulting from the positive scram could be substantial.
Of course the flux does not "equalize" when there's a positive reactivity feedback loop.
  #4  
Old 06-19-2019, 11:06 AM
engineer_comp_geek's Avatar
engineer_comp_geek is offline
Robot Mod in Beta Testing
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 24,759
Scott Manley has a fairly decent video about it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3d3rzFTrLg
  #5  
Old 06-19-2019, 12:11 PM
jjakucyk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Cincinnati
Posts: 445
I saw Scott Manley's video too, which is very good. It still didn't quite explain it for me, but Frankenstein Monster's quote from the IAEA helps a lot.
  #6  
Old 06-24-2019, 09:55 AM
jjakucyk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Cincinnati
Posts: 445
So on a related note, I guess the runaway reaction was just too fast and powerful for the negative temperature coefficient to have any effect? Is it a good check/balance on reactivity when everything's working properly, but it can't overcome unstable conditions?
  #7  
Old 06-24-2019, 02:06 PM
Frankenstein Monster is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Europe
Posts: 730
I think all sources agree that the RBMK reactor in the particular circumstances of the accident had a positive void coefficient (because of the graphite moderator).

That is, increase in the water temperature increases the rate of the nuclear reaction, increasing the water temperature even more etc. Meaning the power increase becomes very rapid.

I often read that the thermal power increased to one hundred times the nominal power for a few seconds before the reactor structure failed.

With a negative void coefficient the power would have gone to zero and the temperature increase would have stopped.

Here is a calculation of how quickly a positive void coefficient causes the power to increase: Neutron Kinetics of the Chernobyl Accident

There is a new research that provides indications there actually was a nuclear explosion during the Chernobyl accident:


A Nuclear Jet at Chernobyl Around 21:23:45 UTC on April 25, 1986

Don't know if that's proven beyond doubt but the description of evidence in that article (especially the Xenon-133m measurements and calculations) is certainly interesting to read.
  #8  
Old 06-24-2019, 02:35 PM
jjakucyk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Cincinnati
Posts: 445
Yes I understand the positive void coefficient. It's not about temperature so much as about steam vs water. Water is a weak neutron absorber, and when it's used only as a coolant but not as a moderator (I assume you need a lot more of it to act as a moderator than you find in an RBMK reactor), if it boils the density goes down and thus the neutron absorption goes down, leading to an increase in reactivity and power. That's why it's called positive *void* where void means essentially a steam bubble, or air.

What I'm talking about however is the negative temperature coefficient, which is different. That's simply the process where as the fuel gets hotter, reactivity goes down due to some sort of doppler effect. This is how you can, apparently, increase the output of a reactor simply by increasing the water flow. More flow means cooler water means more reactivity. So in the case of a nuclear submarine, for instance, going from half throttle to full throttle may not require any change in control rod position since the cooler water inflow will by itself increase the reactivity and power.

At Chernobyl, I'm assuming the excursion happened either too quickly for the negative temperature coefficient to matter, or its overall effect was too weak in the face of the runaway reaction.
  #9  
Old 06-24-2019, 02:40 PM
jjakucyk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Cincinnati
Posts: 445
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frankenstein Monster View Post
Here is a calculation of how quickly a positive void coefficient causes the power to increase: Neutron Kinetics of the Chernobyl Accident
That would seem to corroborate my theory:

Quote:
The neutron flux and thereby the reactor power increased very fast. Due to the thermal inertia of the fuel and the small value of the fuel temperature coefficient the Doppler effect could not break the power excursion.
  #10  
Old 06-24-2019, 03:07 PM
Frankenstein Monster is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Europe
Posts: 730
Quote:
Originally Posted by jjakucyk View Post
At Chernobyl, I'm assuming the excursion happened either too quickly for the negative temperature coefficient to matter, or its overall effect was too weak in the face of the runaway reaction.
OK, I see what you mean. The ENS article indeed says exactly that.

Here is an article about the negative fuel temperature coefficient due to Doppler broadening in nuclear reactors. It says the effect is rapid / almost instantaneous but not very large. "In PWRs, the Doppler coefficient can range, for example, from -5 pcm/K to -2 pcm/K." That's small, and it's smaller when the fuel is hotter.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:15 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017