Nuclear fuel bundles in PWR reactors present vibrations due to coolant flow, which may result in fretting at the interface between the fuel rods and the retaining elements, named spacer grids (SGs). Seismic excitation may also occur during accidental events, such as earthquakes. In this perspective, forced vibration experiments were performed on a reduced-scale nuclear fuel bundle provided by Framatome Canada. The presence of partially loose fuel pellets inside the fuel rods was provided in the experiments. A maximum coolant flow of 5 meters per second was reached inside a water tunnel.

The identification of vibration parameters was attempted in the linear regime, through modal analysis, and in the nonlinear regime, through a single-degree-of-freedom method based on harmonic balance. The value of the equivalent damping parameter was shown to increase strongly with the amplitude of the excitation, thus acting in the direction of safety. The fuel bundle presents a peculiar softening vibration behavior in the nonlinear regime, with a marked decrease of the peak vibration frequency. The comparison with other recent experiments shows that the boundary conditions constituted by SGs have a predominant effect on stiffness and damping during nonlinear vibrations. Therefore, the characterization of the boundary conditions at the SGs was attempted by means of dedicated experiments.

Bending oscillations were tested in the frequency range between DC and 50 Hertz. Tests were repeated in presence and in absence of water. The resulting force-displacement loops clearly show the presence of hysteresis and of bilinear stiffness. The availability of a mathematical model for the stiffness and the damping at the boundary conditions will be indispensable for the future development of reduced-order models describing the vibrations of PWR fuel bundles.

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