Along with the GFR another gas-cooled reactor identified in the Gen IV technology roadmap, the VHTR is studied in France. Some models have been developed at CEA relying on existing computational tools essentially dedicated to the prismatic block type reactor. These models simulate normal operating conditions and accidental reactor transients by using neutronic [1], thermal-hydraulic, system analysis codes [2], and their coupling [3, 4]. In the framework of the European RAPHAEL project, this paper presents the results of the preliminary investigations carried out on the VHTR design. These studies aimed at understanding the physical aspects of the annular core and to identify the limits of a standard block type VHTR with regard to a degradation of its passive safety features. Analysis was performed considering various geometrical scales: fuel cell and fuel column located at the core hot spot, 2D and 3D core configurations including the coupling between neutronic and thermal-hydraulic. From the thermal analysis performed at the core hot spot, the capability to reduce the maximum fuel temperature by modifying the design parameters such as the fuel compact and the fuel block geometry was assessed. The best performances are obtained for an annular fuel compact geometry with coolant flowing inside and outside the fuel compact (ΔT > 50°C). The reliability of such design option should however be addressed with respect to its performance during the LOFC transient (the residual decay heat will be evacuated by radiation during the transient instead of conduction through graphite). As far as the fuel element geometry is concerned, a gain of approximately 50°C can be achieved by making limited changes on the fuel compact distribution in the prismatic block: reduction of the number of fuel compact in the outer ring of the fuel element where the average ratio between coolant channels and fuel compact is smaller. On the other hand, the adopted modifications should also be evaluated with respect to the maximum temperature gradient achieved in the fuel (amoeba effect). In the end, calculations performed on the full core configuration taking into account the thermal feedback showed that the radial positioning of the fuel elements allows to reduce significantly the power peaking factor and the maximum fuel temperature. The gain on the fuel temperature, which varies during the core irradiation, is in the range 100 – 150°C. Several modifications such as the increase of the bypass fraction and the replacement of a part of the graphite reflector by material with better thermal properties were also addressed in this paper.

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