Figure 1: Mold drawings

플루토늄 주형 충전의 3D 유동 및 온도 분석

Authors: Orenstein, Nicholas P. [1]

Publication Date:2013-07-24
Research Org.: Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Sponsoring Org.: DOE/LANL
OSTI Identifier: 1088904
Report Number(s): LA-UR-13-25537
DOE Contract Number: AC52-06NA25396
Resource Type: Technical Report
Country of Publication: United States
Language: English
Subject: Engineering(42); Materials Science(36); Radiation Chemistry, Radiochemistry, & Nuclear Chemistry(38)


The plutonium foundry at Los Alamos National Laboratory casts products for various special nuclear applications. However, plutonium’s radioactivity, material properties, and security constraints complicate the ability to perform experimental analysis of mold behavior. The Manufacturing Engineering and Technologies (MET-2) group previously developed a graphite mold to vacuum cast small plutonium disks to be used by the Department of Homeland Security as point sources for radiation sensor testing.

A two-stage pouring basin consisting of a funnel and an angled cavity directs the liquid into a vertical runner. A stack of ten disk castings connect to the runner by horizontal gates. Volumetric flow rates were implemented to limit overflow into the funnel and minimize foundry returns. Models using Flow-3D computational fluid dynamics software are employed here to determine liquid Pu flow paths, optimal pour regimes, temperature changes, and pressure variations.


Hardcopy drawings provided necessary information to create 3D .stl models for import into Flow-3D (Figs. 1 and 2). The mesh was refined over several iterations to isolate the disk cavities, runner, angled cavity, funnel, and input pour. The final flow and mold-filling simulation utilizes a fine mesh with ~5.5 million total cells. For the temperature study, the mesh contained 1/8 as many cells to reduce computational time and set temperatures to 850 °C for the molten plutonium and 500 °C for the solid graphite mold components (Fig. 3).

Flow-3D solves mass continuity and Navier-Stokes momentum equations over the structured rectangular grid model using finite difference and finite volume numerical algorithms. The solver includes terms in the momentum equation for body and viscous accelerations and uses convective heat transfer.

Simulation settings enabled Flow-3D physics calculations for gravity at 980.665 cm/s 2 in the negative Z direction (top of mold to bottom); viscous, turbulent, incompressible flow using dynamically-computed Renormalized Group Model turbulence calculations and no-slip/partial slip wall shear, and; first order, full energy equation heat transfer.

Mesh boundaries were all set to symmetric boundary conditions except for the Zmin boundary set to outflow and the Zmax boundary set to a volume flow. Vacuum casting conditions and the high reactivity of remaining air molecules with Pu validate the assumption of an initially fluidless void.


The flow follows a unique three-dimensional path. The mold fills upwards with two to three disks receiving fluid in a staggered sequence. Figures 5-9 show how the fluid fills the cavity, and Figure 7 includes the color scale for pressure levels in these four figures. The narrow gate causes a high pressure region which forces the fluid to flow down the cavity centerline.

It proceeds to splash against the far wall and then wrap around the circumference back to the gate (Figs. 5 and 6). Flow in the angled region of the pouring basin cascades over the bottom ledge and attaches to the far wall of the runner, as seen in Figure 7.

This channeling becomes less pronounced as fluid volume levels increase. Finally, two similar but non-uniform depressed regions form about the centerline. These regions fill from their perimeter and bottom until completion (Fig. 8). Such a pattern is counter, for example, to a steady scenario in which a circle of molten Pu encompassing the entire bottom surface rises as a growing cylinder.

Cavity pressure becomes uniform when the cavity is full. Pressure levels build in the rising well section of the runner, where impurities were found to settle in actual casting. Early test simulations optimized the flow as three pours so that the fluid would never overflow to the funnel, the cavities would all fill completely, and small amounts of fluid would remain as foundry returns in the angled cavity.

These rates and durations were translated to the single 2.7s pour at 100 cm 3 per second used here. Figure 9 shows anomalous pressure fluctuations which occurred as the cavities became completely filled. Multiple simulations exhibited a rapid change in pressure from positive to negative and back within the newly-full disk and surrounding, already-full disks.

The time required to completely fill each cavity is plotted in Figure 10. Results show negligible temperature change within the molten Pu during mold filling and, as seen in Figure 11, at fill completion.

Figure 1: Mold drawings
Figure 1: Mold drawings
Figure 2: Mold Assembly
Figure 2: Mold Assembly
Figure 4: Actual mold and cast Pu
Figure 4: Actual mold and cast Pu
Figure 5: Bottom cavity filling
from runner
Figure 5: Bottom cavity filling from runner
Figure 6: Pouring and filling
Figure 6: Pouring and filling
Figure 8: Edge detection of cavity fill geometry. Two similar depressed areas form
about the centerline. Top cavity shown; same pressure scale as other figures
Figure 8: Edge detection of cavity fill geometry. Two similar depressed areas form about the centerline. Top cavity shown; same pressure scale as other figures
Figure 10: Cavity fill times,from first fluid contact with pouring basin, Figure 11:Fluid temperature remains essentially constant
Figure 10: Cavity fill times,from first fluid contact with pouring basin, Figure 11:Fluid temperature remains essentially constant


Non-uniform cavity filling could cause crystal microstructure irregularities during solidification. However, the small temperature changes seen – due to large differences in specific heat between Pu and graphite – over a relatively short time make such problems unlikely in this case.

In the actual casting, cooling required approximately ten minutes. This large difference in time scales further reduces the chance for temperature effects in such a superheated scenario. Pouring basin emptying decreases pressure at the gate which extends fill time of the top two cavities.

The bottom cavity takes longer to fill because fluid must first enter the runner and fill the well. Fill times continue linearly until the top two cavities. The anomalous pressure fluctuations may be due to physical attempts by the system to reach equilibrium, but they are more likely due to numerical errors in the Flow3D solver.

Unsuccessful tests were performed to remove them by halving fluid viscosity. The fine mesh reduced, but did not eliminate, the extent of the fluctuations. Future work is planned to study induction and heat transfer in the full Pu furnace system, including quantifying temporal lag of the cavity void temperature to the mold wall temperature during pre-heat and comparing heat flux levels between furnace components during cool-down.

Thanks to Doug Kautz for the opportunity to work with MET-2 and for assigning an interesting unclassified project. Additional thanks to Mike Bange for CFD guidance, insight of the project’s history, and draft review.