Pop goes the vessel

30 October 2000

On 23 October, engineers from Sandia National Laboratories carried out a test on a scale model of a pressure vessel to determine how it will behave in the event of a reactor core meltdown.

Engineers pressurised a 1/5 scale model of a pressure vessel's lower-head assembly to 700psi, and then increased the temperature until the assembly pops. During this test to failure, the steel on the inside of the vessel deformed as it was heated to 2240°F. The dome expanded until the steel tore, releasing the internal pressure.

Researchers monitored the steel's reaction to the heat and pressure using over 100 sensors. The results are now being compared to the materials response predicted by the nuclear industry's analytical models.

The test was the second in a series of five tests being sponsored by the OECD, with eight countries providing funding – Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Finland and the USA. Each test puts a 1/5 scale model lower head assembly through a different temperature and pressure history that is representative of the conditions a vessel might experience in a distinct type of accident or accident response scenario.
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