|dc.description.abstract||As fission process heats up the fuel rods, UO2 pellets stacked on top of each other swell both radially and axially, while the surrounding Zircaloy cladding creeps down, so that the pellets eventually come into contact with the clad. This exacerbates chemical degradation of the protective cladding and high stress values may enable the formation and propagation of cracks, thus threatening the integrity of the clad. Along these lines, pellet-cladding interaction establishes itself as a major concern for fuel rod design and core operation in light water reactors. Accurately modeling fuel behavior is challenging because the mechanical contact problem strongly depends on temperature distribution and the pellet-clad coupled heat transfer problem is, in turn, affected by changes in geometry induced by body deformations and stresses generated at the contact interface.
Our work focuses on active set strategies to determine the actual contact area in high-fidelity coupled physics fuel performance codes. The approach consists of two steps: in the first one, we determine the boundary region on standard finite element meshes where the contact conditions shall be enforced to prevent objects from occupying the same space. For this purpose, we developed and implemented an efficient parallel search algorithm for detecting mesh inter-penetration and vertex/mesh overlap. The second step deals with solving the mechanical equilibrium taking into account the contact conditions computed in the first step. To do so, we developed a modified version of the multi-point constraint strategy. While the original algorithm was restricted to the Jacobi preconditioned conjugate gradient method, our approach works with any Krylov solver and does not put any restriction on the type of preconditioner used. The multibody thermo-mechanical contact problem is tackled using modern numerics, with continuous finite elements and a Newton-based monolithic strategy to handle nonlinearities (the one stemming from the contact condition itself as well as the one due to the temperature-dependence of the fuel thermal conductivity, for instance) and coupling between the various physics components (gap conductance sensitive to the clad-pellet distance, thermal expansion coefficient or Young’s modulus affected by temperature changes, etc.). We will provide different numerical examples for contact problems using one and multiple bodies in order to demonstrate the performance of the method.||en