The strategy of the European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) to avoid severe accident conditions is based on the improved defense-in-depth approaches of the French “N4” and the German “Konvoi” plants. In addition, the EPR takes measures, at the design stage, to drastically limit the consequences of a postulated core-melt accident. The latter requires a strengthening of the confinement function and a significant reduction of the risk of short- and long-term containment failure. Scenarios with potentially high mechanical loads and large early releases like: high-pressure RPV failure, global hydrogen detonation, and energetic steam explosion must be prevented. The remaining low-pressure sequences are mitigated by dedicated measures that include hydrogen recombination, sustained heat removal out of the containment, and the stabilization of the molten core in an ex-vessel core catcher located in a compartment lateral to the pit. The spatial separation protects the core catcher from loads during RPV failure and, vice versa, eliminates concerns related with its unintended flooding during power operation. To make the relocation of the melt into the core catcher scenario-independent and robust against the uncertainties associated with in-vessel molten pool formation and RPV failure, the corium is temporarily retained, accumulated and conditioned in the pit during interaction with a sacrificial concrete layer. Spreading of the accumulated molten pool is initiated by penetrating a concrete plug in the bottom. The increase in surface-to-volume ratio achieved by the spreading process strongly enhances quenching and cool-down of the melt after flooding. The required water is passively drained from the IRWST. After availability of the containment heat removal system the steam from the boiling pool is re-condensed by sprays. The CHRS can also optionally cool the core catcher directly, which, in consequence, establishes a sub-cooled pool near-atmospheric pressure levels in the containment. The described concept rests on a large experimental knowledge base which covers all main phenomena involved, including melt interaction with structural material, melt spreading, melt and quenching, as well as the efficacy of the core catcher cooling. Besides giving an overview of the EPR core melt mitigation concept, the paper summarizes its R&D bases and describes which conclusions have been drawn from the various experimental projects and how these conclusions are used in the validation of the EPR concept.

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