United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Information Notice No. 89-69: Loss of Thermal Margin Caused by Channel Box Bow

                                  UNITED STATES
                          NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
                             WASHINGTON, D.C.  20555

                               September 29, 1989

Information Notice No. 89-69:  LOSS OF THERMAL MARGIN CAUSED BY 
                                   CHANNEL BOX BOW 


All holders of operating licenses or construction permits for boiling-water 
reactors (BWRs).


This information notice is intended to alert addressees to potential problems 
involving loss of thermal margin caused by excessive bowing of BWR fuel 
channel boxes.  It is expected that recipients will review the information for

applicability to their facilities and consider actions, as appropriate, to 
avoid similar problems.  However, suggestions contained in this information 
notice do not constitute NRC requirements; therefore, no specific action or 
written response is required. 

Description of Circumstances:

During a refueling outage in August 1988, four failed fuel rods in separate 
assemblies were identified at a foreign BWR facility.  Subsequent evaluation 
of sipping, visual inspection, gamma scan, and hot-cell data led to the con-
clusion that these rods failed because the rods were operated under dryout 
conditions during steady-state operation for an extended period of time 
(between 2 and 7 days). 

The failed fuel rods were located symmetrically in the core.  The fuel assem-
blies containing the rods that had failed were located adjacent to once-burned

fuel assemblies with highly exposed fuel channels (see Figure 1).  These fuel 
channels were in their second bundle lifetime and had excessive channel 
bowing.  In each assembly with failed fuel, the corner rod facing the adjacent

control rod was heavily oxidized and the cladding was penetrated just below 
the top spacer grid.  In addition, each of the four failed rods had typical 
secondary internal hydriding damage near the bottom of the fuel rods, 
resulting in loss of fuel material.  


Dryout of the fuel rods in this foreign facility occurred because of modeling 
errors in the plant process computer, which resulted in nonconservative calcu-
lated values of the minimum critical power ratio (MCPR) of the core.  These 


                                                            IN 89-69
                                                            September 29, 1989
                                                            Page 2 of 2

modeling errors were caused by neglecting the effects of channel bowing and 
the geometric variation between the reloaded and once-burned fuel assemblies. 

These effects substantially increased the widths of the control rod water gaps

for the assemblies that contained these four fuel rods beyond that assumed in 
the plant process computer calculations.  The increased neutron moderation as-
sociated with the increased water gap widths led to very high localized power 
peaking at these four fuel rods.  However, these effects were not properly ac-
counted for in the MCPR calculations.  For some time, the plant operators were

misled by these erroneous MCPR calculations and were operating the plant in 
steady-state beyond the MCPR safety limit.  

The modeling error of generic concern to all BWRs, regardless of the fuel 
supplier, relates only to the greater-than-expected bowing of fuel channel 
boxes, which contributed about 15 percent error in the calculated MCPR value 
for this foreign facility.  Channel bowing is a manifestation of differences 
in the channel growth of opposite sides of the channel box and is proportional

to channel growth.  The information obtained by the NRC indicates that the 
channel growth shows an accelerated trend at higher burnup exposure, 
especially when the fuel channels are being reused in their second bundle 
lifetime.  The effect on core operating MCPR is magnified when fresh fuel is 
located adjacent to the bowed fuel channels.  Core operating limits imposed by

technical specifications may be exceeded if the reduction in margin caused by 
fuel channel bowing is not properly accounted for in the plant process 
computer for thermal limits monitoring.  Based on a preliminary evaluation by 
BWR fuel vendors of U.S. reactors, the impact of the new data on actual versus

calculated MCPR values is expected to range from 0.0 to 0.03 CPR units.  
However, the impact could be much greater (about 15 percent) for any reactors 
operating with fuel channels being reused in their second bundle lifetime.  

This information notice requires no specific action or written response.  If 
you have any questions about the information in this notice, please contact 
one of the technical contacts listed below or the appropriate NRR project 

                              Charles E. Rossi, Director
                              Division of Operational Events Assessment
                              Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

Technical Contacts:  Peter C. Wen, NRR
                     (301) 492-1172

                     Daniel B. Fieno, NRR
                     (301) 492-3236

1.  Figure 1, "Channel Bow"
2.  List of Recently Issued NRC Information Notices  .
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