Performance analysis of coated [sup 238]PuO[sub 2] fuel particles compact for radioisotope heater units

Tournier, Jean-Michel; El-Genk, Mohamed S.
January 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 504 Issue 1, p1458
Academic Journal
A fuel form consisting of coated plutonia fuel particles dispersed in a graphite matrix is being investigated for use in Radioisotope Heater Units (RHUs). The fuel particles consist of a [sup 238]PuO[sub 2] kernel (300–1200 μm in diameter), a 5-μm PyC inner coating and a ZrC outer coating (>=10 μm). The latter, an extremely strong material at high temperatures, serves as a pressure vessel for maintaining the integrity of the fuel particle and containing the helium generated by radioactive decay. Parametric analyses compared the thermal powers of the coated particle fuel compact (CPFC) RHU and LWRHU. Both utilize Fine-Weave Pierced Fabric (FWPF) aeroshell and PyC insulation sleeves. During normal operation, the fuel temperature is ∼800 K, but could reach as much as 1723 K during an accidental re-entry heating. Assuming full helium release, a single-size particle (500 μm) fuel compact would maintain its integrity at a temperature of 1723 K, after 10 years storage time before launch. When replacing the LWRHU fuel pellet, Pt-alloy clad and inner PyC insulation sleeve with CPFC, the calculated thermal power of the CPFC-RHU is 1.5, 2.3 and 2.4 times that of LWRHU, for 100%, 10%, and 5% helium release, respectively, with little change in total mass. A fuel compact using binary-size particles (300 and 1200 μm diameters) would deliver 15% more thermal power. A one-dimensional, transient thermal analysis of the CPFC-RHU showed that during accidental re-entry the maximum fuel temperature in the CPFC would be 1734 K. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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