Atomic scale simulations on LWR and Gen-IV fuel

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis


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Fundamental understanding of the behaviour of nuclear fuel has been of great importance. Enhancing this knowledge not only by means of experimental observations, but also via multi-scale modelling is of current interest. The overall goal of this thesis is to understand the impact of atomic interactions on the nuclear fuel material properties. Two major topics are tackled in this thesis. The first topic deals with non-stoichiometry in uranium dioxide (UO2) to be addressed by empirical potential (EP) studies. The second fundamental question to be answered is the effect of the atomic fraction of americium (Am), neptunium (Np) containing uranium (U) and plutonium (Pu) mixed oxide (MOX) on the material properties. UO2 has been the reference fuel for the current fleet of nuclear reactors (Gen-II and Gen-III); it is also considered today by the Gen-IV International Forum for the first cores of the future generation of nuclear reactors on the roadmap towards minor actinide (MA) based fuel technology. The physical properties of UO2 highly depend on material stoichiometry. In particular, oxidation towards hyper stoichiometric UO2 – UO2+x – might be encountered at various stages of the nuclear fuel cycle if oxidative conditions are met; the impact of physical property changes upon stoichiometry should therefore be properly assessed to ensure safe and reliable operations. These physical properties are intimately linked to the arrangement of atomic defects in the crystalline structure. The first paper evaluates the evolution of defect concentration with environment parameters – oxygen partial pressure and temperature by means of a point defect model, with reaction energies being derived from EP based atomic scale simulations. Ultimately, results from the point defect model are discussed, and compared to experimental measurements of stoichiometry dependence on oxygen partial pressure and temperature. Such investigations will allow for future discussions about the solubility of different fission products and dopants in the UO2 matrix at EP level. While the first paper answers the central question regarding the dominating defects in non-stoichiometry in UO2, the focus of the second paper was on the EP prediction of the material properties, notably the lattice parameter of Am, Np containing U and Pu MOX as a function of atomic fractions. The configurational space of a complex U1-y-y’-y’’PuyAmy’Npy’’O2 system, was assessed via Metropolis-Monte Carlo techniques. From the predicted configuration, the relaxed lattice parameter of Am, Np bearing MOX fuel was investigated and compared with available literature data. As a result, a linear behaviour of the lattice parameter as a function of Am, Np content was observed, as expected for an ideal solid solution. These results will allow to support and increase current knowledge on Gen-IV fuel properties, such as melting temperature, for which preliminary results are presented in this thesis, and possibly thermal conductivity in the future.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Science
Awarding Institution
  • ULB - Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • UA - Universiteit Antwerpen
  • Labeau, Pierre-Etienne, Supervisor, External person
  • Verwerft, Marc, SCK CEN Mentor
  • Lamoen, Dirk, Supervisor, External person
Award date12 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2021


  • Non-stoichiometry, Point defect model, Defect chemistry, Hybrid Monte Carlo Molecular Dynamics simulation, Nuclear fuel, Uranium dioxide, Americium, Neptunium bearing uranium, Plutonium MOX fuel, Material properties of Light Water Reactor (LWR) and Gen-IV fuel

ID: 7495970