In the United States, commercial spent nuclear fuel is typically moved from spent fuel pools to outdoor dry storage pads within a transfer cask system that provides radiation shielding to protect personnel and the surrounding environment. The transfer casks are cylindrical steel enclosures with integral gamma and neutron radiation shields. Since the transfer cask system must be passively cooled, decay heat removal from the spent nuclear fuel canister is limited by the rate of heat transfer through the cask components, and natural convection from the transfer cask surface. The primary mode of heat transfer within the transfer cask system is conduction, but some cask designs incorporate a liquid neutron shield tank surrounding the transfer cask structural shell. In these systems, accurate prediction of natural convection within the neutron shield tank is an important part of assessing the overall thermal performance of the transfer cask system. The large-scale geometry of the neutron shield tank, which is typically an annulus approximately 2 meters in diameter but only 10–15 cm in thickness, and the relatively small scale velocities (typically less than 5 cm/s) represent a wide range of spatial and temporal scales that contribute to making this a challenging problem for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling. Relevant experimental data at these scales are not available in the literature, but some recent modeling studies offer insights into numerical issues and solutions. However, the geometries in these studies, and for the experimental data in the literature at smaller scales, all have large annular gaps that are not prototypic of the transfer cask neutron shield. This paper proposes that there may be reliable CFD approaches to the transfer cask problem, specifically coupled steady-state solvers or unsteady simulations; however, both of these solutions take significant computational effort. Segregated (uncoupled) steady state solvers that were tested did not accurately capture the flow field and heat transfer distribution in this application. Mesh resolution, turbulence modeling, and the tradeoff between steady state and transient solutions are addressed. Because of the critical nature of this application, the need for new experiments at representative scales is clearly demonstrated.

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