The thimble tube, which is made of Zircaly-4, is one of the main components of a PWR fuel assembly. The thimble tube has an important role as a structural member of the skeleton. Another role of the thimble tube is to guide a rod cluster control assembly (RCCA) for insertion during the reactor operation, and the function has to be assured not only in normal operation but in a seismic event.

In a horizontal seismic event, the fuel assembly vibrates laterally, which gives bending moment to the thimble tube. In addition, axial compressive force acts on the thimble tube in a vertical seismic event.

The integrity of the thimble tube has to be maintained while this force and moment act. Mitsubishi has confirmed by the elastic stress analysis that the stress of the thimble tube is lower than the limit value requested for the seismic event. The stress evaluation method is based on the ASME code.

The ASME code also describes the limit analysis which is available when the predicted stress is beyond elastic region of the material. In the analysis, the material is assumed to be elastic-perfectly plastic, and the maximum load that the structure can carry is calculated. For the reason mentioned above, the allowable limit of the thimble tube should be determined as a function between the force and the moment. We are planning to examine the allowable limit experimentally.

As a step before testing, an analytical approach for the limit is discussed in this paper. Firstly, the allowable limit is calculated by a beam model assuming elastic-perfectly plastic material, based on the ASME code.

Secondly, a 3D model analysis with elastic-plastic material is performed to predict the practical strength. Based on the comparison with the analysis using elastic-perfectly plastic material, ASME based limit is considerably conservative compared with the one with the actual stress-strain curve. Conversely, this means there is enough room to rationalize the allowable limit.

As the future work, the experiment will be conducted to obtain the practical limit of the thimble tube and to verify the analysis results.

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