Studies on Molten Salt Fuels: Properties, Purification, and Materials Degradation

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Virginia Tech


The molten salt reactor (MSR) is one of the advanced nuclear reactors expected to be alternatives to the conventional water-cooled nuclear reactor systems. Despite many advantages of MSRs, properties of molten salts have not been sufficiently measured in previous studies. In addition, the corrosion of structural alloys by molten salt is the biggest challenge for the operation of MSRs. This study focuses on measurements of thermophysical and thermodynamic properties of fluoride salt fuels, salt purification, and the degradation of structural materials in static and flowing molten-salt fuels. For the measurements of properties, phase transition, specific heat capacity, vapor pressure, contact angle on nuclear-grade graphite, and density were measured. The methodologies for the property measurements used in this study were validated by measuring the properties of metals or salts that have been well studied. For the flow-induced corrosion tests, the salt flow with different velocities was simulated by rotating the stainless steel 316H (SS316H) specimens in molten NaF-KF-UF4 (FUNaK) contained in glassy carbon crucibles at 1073 K. Salt samples were intermittently collected to monitor concentration changes of corrosion products in the salt, and surfaces and cross-sections of post-test SS316H specimens were analyzed to study their corrosion behaviors. Different batches of FUNaK were synthesized using different methods of purification, such as thermal purification, U-metal purification, and hydrofluorination with electrochemical purification (chemical purification) to study impacts of salt purification on the corrosion of SS316H. The corrosion test of SS316H by thermally purified FUNaK showed that the Fe concentration increased at the beginning and then decreased while the Cr concentration continued increasing while the rate decreased. In addition, (Cr, Fe)7C3 layers, Cr-metal particles, and dendritic structures concentrated with Cr and Fe were observed on the glassy carbon crucible after the 2 m/s test. The U-metal purification and hydrofluorination with electrochemical purification reduced concentrations of oxygen and hydrogen in FUNaK and mitigated the corrosion of SS316H significantly. The infiltration of the fluoride fuel salts into graphite and the fluorination of graphite by the salts at different pressures and temperatures were also studied. The salt infiltration into graphite at pressures above its threshold pressure was observed, and the formation of carbon fluorides on the surface of post-test graphite specimens was identified.



Molten-salt fuel, molten-salt property measurements, salt purification, molten-salt materials degradation