Presently there is a clear trend of increasing demands on in-pile performance of nuclear fuel. Higher target burnups, part length rods and various fuel additives are some examples of this trend. Together with an increasing demand from the public for even safer nuclear power utilisation, this implies an increased focus on various experimental, preferably non-destructive, methods to characterise the fuel.
This thesis focuses on the development and experimental evaluation of such methods. In its first part, the thesis presents a method based on gamma-ray spectroscopy with germanium detectors that have been used at various power reactors in Europe. The aim with these measurements is to provide information about the thermal power distribution within fuel assemblies in order to validate core physics production codes. The early closure of the Barsebäck 1 BWR offered a unique opportunity to perform such validations before complete depletion of burnable absorbers in Gd-rods had taken place. To facilitate the measurements, a completely submersible measuring system, LOKET, was developed allowing for convenient in-pool measurements to be performed.
In its second part, the thesis describes methods that utilise in-pile measurements. These methods have been used in the Halden test-reactor for determination of fission gas release, pellet-cladding interaction studies and fuel development studies.
Apart from the power measurements, the LOKET device has been used for fission gas release (FGR) measurements on single fuel rods. The significant reduction in fission gas release in the modern fuel designs, in comparison with older designs, has been demonstrated in a series of experiments. A FGR database covering a wide range of burnup, power histories and fuel designs has been compiled and used for fuel performance analysis. The fission gas release has been measured on fuel rods with average burnups well above 60 MWd/kgU. The comparison between core physics calculations (PHOENIX-4/POLCA-7) and the in-pool measurements of thermal power indicates that the nodal power can generally be predicted with an accuracy within 4% and the bundle power with an accuracy better than 2%, expressed as rms errors.
In-pile experiments have successfully simulated the conditions that occur in a fuel rod following a primary debris failure, being secondary fuel degradation. It was concluded that massive hydrogen pick-up takes place during the first few days following the primary failure and that a pre-oxidized layer does not function as a barrier towards hydriding in an environment with a very high partial pressure of hydrogen. Another series of in-pile experiments clearly indicate that increased UO2 grain size is an effective way of suppressing fission gas release in LWR fuel up to the burnup level covered (55 MWd/kgUO2).