Idaho National Laboratory has conducted air-ingress experiments as part of a campaign to validate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) calculations for very high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (VHTR) analysis. An isothermal test loop was designed to recreate exchange or stratified flow that occurs in the lower plenum of VHTR after a break in the primary loop allows helium to leak out and reactor building air to enter the reactor core. The experiment was designed to measure stratified flow in the inlet pipe connecting to the lower plenum of the General Atomics gas turbine-modular helium reactor (GT-MHR). Instead of helium and air, brine and sucrose were used as heavy fluids, and water was used as the lighter fluid to create, using scaling laws, the appropriate flow characteristics of the lower plenum immediately after depressurization. These results clearly indicate that stratified flow is established even for very small density differences.

Corresponding CFD results were validated with the experimental data. A grid sensitivity study on CFD models was also performed using the Richardson extrapolation and the grid convergence index method for the numerical accuracy of CFD calculations. The calculated current speed showed very good agreement with the experimental data, indicating that current CFD methods are suitable for simulating density gradient stratified flow phenomena in an air-ingress accident.