Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Materials and Nuclear Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

First Committee Member

William Culbreth, Chair

Second Committee Member

Ralf Sudowe

Third Committee Member

Yitung Chen

Fourth Committee Member

Robert Boehm

Graduate Faculty Representative

Gary Cerefice

Number of Pages



One of the largest determiners of the amount of electricity generated by current nuclear reactors is the efficiency of the thermodynamic cycle used for power generation. Current light water reactors (LWR) have an efficiency of 35% or less for the conversion of heat energy generated by the reactor to electrical energy. If this efficiency could be improved, more power could be generated from equivalent volumes of nuclear fuel. One method of improving this efficiency is to use a coolant flow that operates at a much higher temperature for electricity production. A reactor design that is currently proposed to take advantage of this efficiency is a graphite-moderated, helium-cooled reactor known as a High Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR). There are significant differences between current LWR’s and the proposed HTGR’s but most especially in the composition of the nuclear fuel. For LWR’s, the fuel elements consist of pellets of uranium dioxide or plutonium dioxide that are placed in long tubes made of zirconium metal alloys . For HTGR’s, the fuel, known as TRISO (TRIstructural-ISOtropic) fuel, consists of an inner sphere of fissile material, a layer of dense pyrolytic carbon (PyC), a ceramic layer of silicon carbide (SiC) and a final dense outer layer of PyC. These TRISO particles are then compacted with graphite into fuel rods that are then placed in channels in graphite blocks. The blocks are then arranged in an annular fashion to form a reactor core.

However, this new fuel form has unanswered questions on the environmental post-burn-up behavior. The key question for current once-through fuel operations is how these large irradiated graphite blocks with spent fuel inside will behave in a repository environment. Data in the literature to answer this question is lacking, but nevertheless this is an important question that must be answered before wide-spread adoption of HTGR’s could be considered.

This research has focused on answering the question of how the large quantity of graphite surrounding the spent HTGR fuel will impact the release of aqueous uranium from the TRISO fuel. In order to answer this question, the sorption and partitioning behavior of uranium to graphite under a variety of conditions was investigated. Key systematic variables that were analyzed include solution pH, dissolved carbonate concentration, uranium metal concentration and ionic strength. The kinetics and desorption characteristics of uranium/graphite partitioning were studied as well. The graphite used in these experiments was also characterized by a variety of techniques and conclusions are drawn about the relevant surface chemistry of graphite. This data was then used to generate a model for the reactive transport of uranium in a graphite matrix. This model was implemented with the software code CXTFIT and validated through the use of column studies mirroring the predicted system.


Graphite; Radioactive wastes – Packaging; Radioactive wastes – Storage; Radioactive wastes – Transportation; Reactive transport; Sorption; TRISO; Uranium


Materials Science and Engineering | Nuclear Engineering

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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