Seismic Isolation of Nuclear Power Plants using Elastomeric Bearings (NUREG/CR-7255)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: February 2016
Date Published: February 2019

Prepared by:
M. Kumar
A. Whittaker
M. Constantinou

Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER)
University at Buffalo, State University of New York
212 Ketter Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260

Ramón L. Gascot-Lozada, NRC Project Manager

Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington DC 20555-0001

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Seismic isolation using low damping rubber (LDR) and lead-rubber (LR) bearings is a viable strategy for mitigating the effects of extreme earthquake shaking on safety-related nuclear structures. Although seismic isolation has been deployed in nuclear structures in France and South Africa, it has not seen widespread use. This has been attributed to, in part, limited new build nuclear construction in the past 30 years and a lack of guidelines, codes and standards for the analysis, design and construction of isolation systems specific to nuclear structures.

The nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011 has led the nuclear community to consider seismic isolation for new large light water and small modular reactors to withstand the effects of extreme earthquakes. The mechanical properties of LDR and LR bearings are not expected to change substantially in design basis shaking. However, under shaking more intense than design basis, the properties of the lead cores in lead-rubber bearings may degrade due to heating associated with energy dissipation, some bearings in an isolation system may experience net tension, and the compression and tension stiffness may be affected by the horizontal displacement of the isolation system.

The effects of variation in mechanical properties of lead-rubber bearing on the response of base-isolated nuclear power plants (NPPs) were investigated using an advanced numerical model of lead-rubber bearing. The model was verified and validated, and implemented in OpenSees and ABAQUS. A series of experiments were conducted at University at Buffalo to characterize the behavior of elastomeric bearings in tension. The test data was used to validate a phenomenological model of an elastomeric bearing in tension. The value of three times the shear modulus of rubber in the elastomeric bearing was found to be a reasonable estimate of the cavitation stress of a bearing. The sequence of loading did not change the behavior of an elastomeric bearing under cyclic tension, and there was no significant change in the shear modulus, compressive stiffness, and buckling load of a bearing following cavitation.

Response-history analysis of base-isolated NPP structures was performed using a two-node macro model and a lumped-mass stick model. A comparison of responses obtained from analysis using simplified and advanced isolator models showed that the variation in buckling load due to horizontal displacement and strength degradation due to heating of lead cores affect the responses of a base-isolated NPP most significantly. The two-node macro model can be used to estimate the horizontal displacement response of a base-isolated NPP, but a three-dimensional model that explicitly considers all of the bearings in the isolation system will be required to estimate demands on individual bearings, and to investigate rocking and torsional responses. The use of the simplified LR bearing model underestimated the torsional and rocking response of the base-isolated NPP. Vertical spectral response at the top of containment building was very sensitive to how damping was defined for the response-history analysis.

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