Passive nuclear power plants emphasize the “In vessel retention” idea such that, after a postulated severe accident event, the reactor vessel wall, flooded with emergency cooling water, will maintain its structural integrity and consequently keep the molten core inside the reactor vessel. However, steam explosion may still occur when the melting core or molten metal is mixed with cooling water. The huge pressure pulses from the steam explosion may be a threat to the structural integrity of the reactor vessel lower head and the potential failure may make the situation difficult to control. This paper presents a detailed analysis on the structural integrity of a reactor vessel lower head. First, a mathematical model is built to relate the equivalent plastic strain in the lower head under explosive loads based on the law of conservation of energy. Then a finite element model, using the computer code ABAQUS, is built and the material’s yield strength as a function of strain rate was simulated using the Bodner-Symonds methodology. With this model, the dynamic response and the structural integrity of the reactor vessel lower head is studied, considering the effect of the magnitude, the shape and the duration of the pressure pulses. The method used in this paper is believed to be applicable to other types of devices containing potential explosive materials and thus could provide guiding significance to similar problems.

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