Discrete element simulation of Pebble Bed Reactors on graphics processing units

David Reger, Elia Merzari, Paolo Balestra, Ryan Stewart, Gerhard Strydom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Prediction of pebble positions in a Pebble Bed Reactor (PBR) is necessary for both reactor physics and thermal hydraulics simulations as the arrangement of pebbles has a significant impact on the resulting core power, coolant flow, and fuel temperature. Knowledge of pebble movement as the fuel is cycled through the core is also critical for predicting the fuel residence time and subsequently, the fuel burnup. Simulation with the Discrete Element Method (DEM) can provide knowledge of both the fuel packing and the fuel movement during cycling. Previous works that have performed 3D full-core DEM simulation of PBRs have used simplified models that neglect reflector wall features. This work employs a graphics processing unit (GPU)-enabled DEM code, Project Chrono, to analyze the differences in pebble packing and pebble velocities between a simplified smooth PBR reflector and a more realistic reflector that includes circular wall features. A sensitivity study is performed on the depth of the wall features to ensure that crystallization is prevented. Project Chrono is also validated for PBR cycling applications using experimental data. It is found that wall features with a depth of at least 0.5 pebble diameters significantly reduce crystallization in the near-wall region, leading to discrepancies in both packing fraction and pebble velocity in this region compared to the simplified reflector models. These discrepancies are found to lead to roughly a 5–10% difference in the prediction of the near-wall porosity and a 10% difference in the prediction of the velocity of pebbles near the wall. As a result of these discrepancies, it is suggested that future DEM simulations of PBRs include wall features to reduce modeling errors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109896
JournalAnnals of Nuclear Energy
StatePublished - Sep 15 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering


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