Launched in 2007, the "Debris bed reflooding" (ex-PEARL) experimental research program aims to better understand the behaviour of steam and water flow in a porous medium composed of solid particles at very high temperature under conditions representative of a core melt accident (or severe accident). Experiments are conducted using the PRELUDE and PEARL test facilities of the IRSN's THEMA platform.
In case of prolonged loss of cooling accident, the fuel rods of the core of a pressurized water reactor (PWR) will be damaged, and will collapse to form what is called a "debris bed", i.e. an agglomeration of fragments of zircaloy cladding and UO2 pellets (or UO2 and PuO2 pellets in the case of MOX fuel rods) which, if not rapidly cooled, will melt and become increasingly difficult to cool. This problem was identified through analysis of the Three Mile Island accident (TMI-2) which occurred in the United States in 1979.
One of the recommended actions to mitigate such accident sequences consists of reinjecting cooling water into the core, an action so-called "reflooding". Although essential for cooling the fuel assemblies, this action may nevertheless compromise the integrity of the reactor containment building. Indeed, reflooding a melting core at very high temperature may cause an explosive thermal reaction, so-called "steam explosion", between the cooling water and the molten corium. Such an explosion can generate projectiles which could damage the containment building. Furthermore, the water vapor resulting from the vaporization of the injected water will oxidize the metallic compounds of the core (zircaloy cladding, steel structures) and generate hydrogen with the potential to undergo a combustion inside the containment, as it was observed during the Fukushima accident.
The "Debris bed reflooding" experimental research program was launched in order to better understand and model these phenomena, the final objective being to determine the conditions under which cooling water can be injected so as to cool the core in an efficient manner with an acceptable risk for the containment. This additional knowledge will be subsequently used to clarify the choice of emergency operating procedures for severe accident conditions and to support the assessment of the relevance of EDF's Severe Accident Operating Guidelines.
Facility is in operation.