Thermal-Hydraulic and Neutronic Phenomena Important in Modeling and Simulation of Liquid-Fuel Molten Salt Reactors

Nicholas R. Brown, David J. Diamond, Stephen Bajorek, Richard Denning

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Scopus citations


    We discuss liquid-fuel molten salt (cooled) reactors (MSRs); how they will operate under normal, transient, and accident conditions; and the results of an expert elicitation to determine the corresponding thermal-hydraulic and neutronic phenomena important to understanding their behavior. Identifying these phenomena will enable the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), U.S. Department of Energy, and industry to develop or identify modeling functionalities and tools required to carry out confirmatory and licensing analyses that examine the validity and accuracy of an applicant’s calculations and help determine the margin of safety in plant design. The NRC frequently does an expert elicitation using a Phenomena Identification and Ranking Table (PIRT) to identify and evaluate the state of knowledge of important modeling phenomena. However, few details about the design of these reactors and the sequence of events during accidents are known, so the process used was considered a preliminary PIRT. A panel comprising a group of subject matter experts met to define phenomena that would need to be modeled and considered the impact/importance of each phenomenon with respect to specific figures of merit (FoMs) (e.g., salt temperature, velocity, and composition). Each FoM reflected a potential impact on radionuclide release or loss of a barrier to release. The panel considered what the path forward might be with respect to being able to model the phenomenon in a simulation code. Results are explained for both thermal and fast spectrum designs, with an emphasis on the thermal-hydraulic takeaways. It was concluded that compared to light water reactors, the lack of high-pressure operation, energetic break flow, depressurization, and quench front tracking may simplify some aspects of an MSR analysis. However, MSRs have new phenomena both for a license applicant and NRC confirmatory analysis. There is a need for enhanced understanding of physical properties for MSRs that encompass several individual thermophysical properties, including thermal conductivity, viscosity, specific heat, density, optical properties, thermodynamic properties, volatilities, solubilities, etc. Salt composition is closely linked to both these properties and the neutronics of the system. Additionally, the large number of MSR concepts and system designs means that there is wide variation in the potential modeling needs for these systems.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)322-338
    Number of pages17
    JournalNuclear Technology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
    • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
    • Condensed Matter Physics


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