The effect of temperature changes and in particular those that are accompanied by strong gradients was extensively investigated for fast reactors. Subcritical systems designed for their transmutation ability are to some extent similar to critical power reactors in their subassembly structure. However, they differ in two main aspects. First, the coolant in a subcritical system is lead or lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE) and not sodium, and second, the main cause for steep temperature gradients in a fast power reactor is sudden control rod insertion, or scram, whereas in subcritical systems shutdown of the accelerator and its proton beam is the main cause for temperature gradients. Furthermore, the increased probability of operational interruptions in an accelerator-driven system is largely due to the instability of the accelerator generating the proton beam.

This study uses the knowledge gained from fast reactors as a preliminary reference and concentrates further on the unique features of the proposed subcritical systems.

In particular, the effect of beam trips on the fuel pin integrity is evaluated as a function of the temperature gradients and the duration of the beam trips. It seems, however, that the largest hazard to the fuel pin integrity is due to the lead (or LBE) coolant. In particular, the stability of the protective oxide layer built on the clad surface with the lead coolant appears quite sensitive to sudden temperature changes. In the second part of this study, several available experimental results show that even very moderate temperature changes are sufficient to cause crack formation in the oxide layer thereby exposing the clad surface to enhanced LBE corrosion. In the worst case, complete exfoliation of the magnetite outer layer is observed. As a consequence, clad failure probability due to corrosion is considerably increased.