During vacuum drying of used nuclear fuel canister, helium pressure is decreased to as low as 67 Pa to promote evaporation and removal of water remaining in the canister following draining operation. At low pressures associated with vacuum drying, there is a temperature jump (thermal resistance) between the solid surfaces and helium in contact with them. This temperature jump increases as the pressure decreases (rarefied condition), which contributes to the fuel assembly’s temperature increase. It is important to keep the temperature of the fuel assemblies below 400°C during vacuum drying to ensure their safety for transport and storage.
In this work, an experimental apparatus consisting of a 7×7 array of electrically heated rods maintained between two spacer plates and enclosed inside a square cross-section stainless steel pressure vessel is constructed to evaluate the temperature of the heater rods at different pressures. This geometry is relevant to a BWR fuel assembly between two consecutive spacer plates. Thermocouples are installed in each of the 49 heater rods, spacer plates and enclosure walls. They provide a complete temperature profile of the experiment. Different pressures and heat generation relevant to vacuum drying conditions are tested. The results showed that the maximum temperature of the heater rods increases as the pressure decreases. The results from these experiments will be compared to computational fluid dynamics simulations in a separate work.