Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Heng Ban


Measuring nuclear fuel thermal conductivity in-pile can provide much needed data for understanding fuel performance during irradiation and yield thermophysical property data needed for simulation codes and fuel databases. The objective of this research is to develop and compare two in-pile thermal conductivity methods in a laboratory setting using surrogate fuel materials.

A steady-state radial heat flow method was investigated to understand its viability as an in-pile steady-state thermal conductivity technique. By using Joule heating to simulate volumetric heat generation within a surrogate fuel rod, thermal conductivity was measured with two thermocouples at different radial positions within the rod. Examinations were completed on two batches of surrogate materials over the temperature range of 500 to 700 °C. The selected surrogate rod was fabricated from the only material identified to possess the required thermal conductivity and electrical resistivity required for the selected laboratory approach. Evaluations estimated a measurement uncertainty of 12% and values were within 33% of values obtained using laboratory material property measurement systems for this surrogate material. Results indicate that the selected surrogate rod material limited the ability to assess this approach at higher temperatures in a laboratory setting.

A transient needle probe method adapted from American Standard Test Method standards was also used to measure temperature-dependent thermal conductivity of surrogate fuel rod materials for temperatures ranging from room temperature to 400 °C. The needle probe has a heating element and a temperature sensor contained in a metal sheath, and it is inserted into the surrogate fuel rod whose thermal conductivity is to be measured. The thermal conductivity is calculated from the power applied to the heating element, and the temperature rise detected in the sample. Needle probes were designed and fabricated using materials recommended for in-pile application. Scoping room-temperature values obtained using the needle probe method were within acceptable accuracies defined by the ASTM needle probe reference standard. Temperature-dependent values were within 2% of values for the well-characterized ASTM recommended reference material, fused silica. A measurement uncertainty under 6% was calculated for the needle probe method.

As a result of this study, the needle probe method was selected for additional testing at the Idaho National Laboratory for anticipated testing in Materials Test Reactors. This would result in the first-ever transient in-pile thermal conductivity sensor.