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Instabilities in natural circulation systems

Jianjun Wang
College of Nuclear Science And Technology,
Harbin Engineering University, China

llege of Nuclear Science and Technology

 Introduction

 Instability classification

 Instability of single-phase NCS

 Instability associated with boiling inception

 Two-phase NC instability

Natural circulation systems are susceptible to several kinds of instabilities. Althoug
stabilities are common to both forced and natural circulation systems, the latter is mo
nstable than forced circulation systems due to a regenerative feedback inherent in the N
rocess and its low driving force. For example, any disturbance in the driving force of a N
ystem will affect the flow which in turn will influence the driving force leading to
scillatory behaviour even in cases where eventually a steady state is expected. In oth
ords, a regenerative feedback is inherent in the mechanism causing NC flow due
he strong coupling between the flow and the driving force. As a result, both singl
hase and two-phase natural circulation systems exhibit instability whereas only forc
rculation two-phase systems are known to exhibit instability. Even among two-pha
ystems, the NC systems are more unstable than forced circulation systems due to the abo
Instability is undesirable as sustained flow oscillations may cause forced mechanic
bration of components. Further, premature CHF (critical heat flux) occurrence can
duced by flow oscillations as well as other undesirable secondary effects like pow
scillations in BWRs. 3
Before we progress further, we need to define instability. Following a perturbation,
e system returns back to the original steady state, then the system is considered to
able. If on the other hand the system continues to oscillate with the same amplitude, th
e system is neutrally stable. If the system stabilizes to a new steady state or oscillat
ith increasing amplitude then the system is considered as unstable. It may be noted th
e amplitude of oscillations cannot go on increasing indefinitely even for unstable flo
nstead for almost all cases of instability the amplitude is limited by nonlinearities of t
ystem and limit cycle oscillations (which may be chaotic or periodic) are eventual
tablished. The time series of the limit cycle oscillations may exhibit characteristics simil
the neutrally stable condition. Further, even in the steady state case, especially for tw
hase systems with slug flow, small amplitude oscillations are visible. Thus, f
entification purposes especially during experiments, often it becomes necessary
uantify the amplitude of oscillations as a certain percentage of the steady state valu
mplitudes more than +10% of the mean value is often considered as an indication
Instability classification
Mathematically, the fundamental cause of all instabilities is due to the existence
ompeting multiple solutions so that the system is not able to settle down to any one
em permanently. Instead, the system swings from one solution to the other. An essenti
haracteristic of the unstable oscillating NC systems is that as it tries to settle down to o
f the solutions a self-generated feedback appears making another solution more attracti
ausing the system to swing towards it. The process repeats itself resulting in perpetu
scillatory behaviour if the operating conditions are maintained constant. Although this is
eneral characteristic it hardly distinguishes the different types of instabilities found
ccur in various systems.
In general, instabilities can be classified according to various bases as listed below:
a) analysis method,
b) propagation method,
c) number of unstable zones,
d) nature of the oscillations,
e) loop geometry,
f) disturbances 5
Instability classification
 Based on the analysis method
In some cases, the occurrence of multiple solutions and the instability threshold itse
an be predicted from the steady state equations governing the process (fundamental stat
stability). However, there are many situations where the cause of the instability lies in t
eady state laws but feedback effects are important in predicting the threshold (compoun
atic instability). Besides, many NCSs with only a unique steady state solution can al
ecome unstable during the approach to the steady state due to the appearance of competin
ultiple solutions due to the inertia and feedback effects (pure dynamic instability
either the cause nor the threshold of instability of such systems can be predicted pure
om the steady state equations alone. Instead, it requires the full transient governin
quations to be considered for explaining the cause and predicting the threshold. In additio
many oscillatory conditions, secondary phenomena gets excited and it modifi
gnificantly the characteristics of the fundamental instability. In such cases, even t
rediction of the instability threshold may require consideration of the secondary effe
ompound dynamic instability).
Instability classification
 Based on the propagation method
This classification is actually restricted to only the dynamic instabilities. Accordin
Boure et al. (1973) the mechanism of dynamic instability involves the propagation
sturbances. In two-phase flow, the disturbances can be transported by two different kin
f waves: acoustic waves and density waves. In single-phase NCSs, however, only densi
ave instability is observed. In any two-phase system both types of waves are presen
owever, their velocities differ by one or two orders of magnitude allowing us
stinguish between the two.
Acoustic instability is considered to be caused by the resonance of pressure wave
coustic oscillations are also observed during blowdown experiments with pressurized h
ater systems possibly due to multiple wave reflections. Acoustic oscillations a
haracterized by high frequencies of the order of 10–100 Hz related to the pressure wa
ropagation time. Acoustic oscillations have been observed in subcooled boiling, bu
oiling, and film boiling.

Instability classification
 Based on the propagation method
Density wave instability (DWI). In a boiling system a temporary increase in the pow
auses a fluid packet of high void fraction and hence low density (i.e. a light fluid packe
emerge from the heat source. As this light fluid packet moves up along the riser
creases the driving force and hence the flow. The increased flow reduces the exit enthalp
nd the void fraction causing a fluid packet of high density (dense or heavy fluid packet)
merge from the heat source. As the heavy fluid packet ascends along the riser, the drivin
rce reduces causing the flow rate to decrease. This decrease in flow rate again increas
e exit enthalpy and void fraction leading to the repetition of the process. It must be clear
nderstood that the above mechanism is at work in a NCS always. Instability, however,
bserved only when the light and heavy fluid packets are formed with appropriate spacin
elated to time delay) and magnitude, which are dependent on the operating conditions
ell as the loop geometry. The instability is also observable in condensing as well as singl
hase NCSs. In fact, DWI is the most commonly observed instability in natur
rculation loops. The basic difference with acoustic instability is that the DWI
haracterized by low frequency oscillations (of the order of 1 Hz). 8
Instability classification
 Based on the number of unstable zones
Fukuda and Kobori (1979) gave a further
assification of density wave instability based
n the number of unstable zones. Usually, there
xists a low power and a high power unstable
one for density wave instability in forced as
ell as NC two-phase flows (Fig. 1a). For the
wo-phase flow density wave instability, the
nstable region below the lower threshold occurs
a low power and hence at low quality and is
amed as type I instability. Similarly, the
nstable region beyond the upper threshold
ccurs at a high power and hence at high
ualities and is named as type II instability..

Instability classification
 Based on the nature of the oscillations
All instabilities eventually lead to some kind of oscillations. The oscillations can
beled as flow excursions or oscillations, pressure drop oscillations, power oscillation
mperature excursions or oscillations, etc. Besides, classifications based on t
scillatory characteristics are some times reported for dynamic instability. For examp
ased on the periodicity sometimes oscillations are characterized as periodic and chaot
ased on the oscillatory mode, the oscillations are characterized as fundamental mode
gher harmonic modes. Depending on the phase lag we can classify oscillations as i
hase, out-of-phase or if both in-phase and out-of-phase modes are present it is referred
dual oscillations. In natural circulation loops, flow direction can also change durin
scillations. Based on the direction of flow, the oscillations can be characterized
nidirectional, bidirectional or it can switch between the two. Such switching is oft
ccompanied by period doubling, tripling.

Instability classification
 Based on the loop geometry
Certain instabilities are characteristic of the loop geometry. Examples are t
stabilities observed in open U-loops, symmetric closed loops and asymmetric close
ops. In addition, pressure drop oscillations and the parallel channel instability are al
haracteristic of the loop geometry. Pressure drop oscillations normally occur in system
ith a compressible volume (a pressurizer for example) at the inlet of the heated chann
milarly, interaction among parallel channels can also lead to instability. Since bo
ressure drop and parallel channel oscillations are part of the compound dynam
 Based on the disturbances
Certain two-phase flow phenomena can cause a major disturbance and can lead
stability or modify the instability characteristics significantly. Typical examples a
oiling inception, flashing, flow pattern transition or the occurrence of CHF. All the
e static phenomena and are discussed either under static or compound static instabili
old water injection can also cause a major disturbance and instability in natural circulatio
ystems. 11
Instability classification
The classification based on the analysis methods is a very broad classification and a
bserved instabilities are found to belong to one or the other of the four classes, i.e. stat
ompound static, dynamic and compound dynamic instability. This is also the most wide
ccepted classification of instabilities. All other classifications are actually addressing on
subset of the instabilities considered in the above four main types. However, one of t
ajor drawbacks is that it does not differentiate between natural and forced circulatio
ystems. Today, we know that most known two-phase instabilities are observable in bo
rced and natural circulation systems. However, there are certain instabilities associat
ith natural circulation systems, which are not observable in forced circulation system
or example, single-phase NC systems exhibit instability where as single-phase forc
rculation systems, generally, do not show instabilities. Besides, natural circulatio
ystems exhibit an instability associated with flow direction whereas no such instability
ported for forced circulation systems with the exception of parallel channel systems..

 Instabilities in natural circulation systems:
Definition of stability in fluid dynamics

ass Type Mechanism characteristic

Flow undergoes sudden,
Flow excursion or large amplitude excursion
Fundamental static Ledinegg instabilities a new, stable operating
instabilities condition
Ineffective removal of heat Wall temperature excursi
Boiling crisis
from heated surface and flow oscillation
tic Flow pattern Bubbly flow has less void Cyclic flow pattern
tabilities Fundamental relaxation
transition but higher ∆P than that of transitions and flow rate
instability annular flow variations
Period process of super-h
Periodic adjustment of
and violent evaporation
Compound relaxation Bumping, geysering, metastable condition,
instability or chugging usually due to lack of
possible expulsion and
nucleation sites
Integral system phenomena
 Instabilities in natural circulation systems:
Definition of stability in fluid dynamics
ss Type Mechanism characteristic
ss Type Mechanism characteristic
High frequencies (10-100Hz)
Resonance of pressure related to the time required for
Acoustic oscillations
waves pressure wave propagation in
Fundamental dynamic system
Delay and feedback effects Low frequencies (1Hz)
Density wave
in relationship between flow rate, density, related to transit time of a
and pressure drop continuity wave
Interaction of variable heat
ic Thermal oscillations transfer coefficient with Occurs in film boiling
abilities flow dynamics
Compound dynamic
Interaction of void reactivity coupling Strong only for small fuel time
instabilities BWR instability
with flow dynamics and heat transfer constant and under low pressu
Parallel channel Interaction among small Various modes of flow
instability number of parallel channels redistribution
Compound dynamic Flow excursion initiates
Pressure drop Very low frequency
instability as secondary dynamic interaction between channel and
oscillations periodic process (0.1Hz) 14
phenomena compressible volume
Instability of single-phase NCS
Single-phase NC is the normal mode of coolant circulation in the district heatin
actors and certain advanced reactors like CAREM-X. It is also relevant to t
upercritical natural circulation boilers and reactors. It is the observed mode of circulatio
most pressurized light and heavy water reactors in case of complete loss of pumpin
ower. Further, all two-phase NCSs pass through the single-phase region during the heatin
p phase. Hence stability of single-phase natural circulation assumes importance during t
art-up of natural circulation BWRs like AHWR and ESBWR.
Single-phase instabilities are of four different types:
a) Instability of the rest state,
b) Static instabilities associated with multiple steady states,
c) Dynamic instabilities,
d) Compound dynamic instabilities.

Instability of single-phase NCS
 Instability of the rest state
Generally, in a NCL, the fluid is stagnant (i.e. rest state) in the absence of heatin
ollowing the application of heating, if the fluid continues to remain stagnant then its re
ate is stable. If it begins to flow then the rest state is considered as unstable. Weland
967) stated that the rest state of a loop with two vertical branches, a point heat source
e bottom and a point heat sink at the top, is always unstable. The stability of the rest sta
as also investigated by Bau and Torrance (1981) in an open loop and reached the sam
onclusion as that of Welander. However, Zvirin’s (1985) analysis considering the effect
xial conduction in a vertical thermosyphon has shown that the rest state is unstable only
suitably defined Rayleigh number exceeds a critical value. While Bau and Torran
mployed a dynamic analysis, Zivirin has shown that the same result can be arrived at fro
e static as well as the dynamic analysis. Generally, the instability associated with the re
ate is considered as a dynamic instability..

Instability of single-phase NCS
 Static instabilities due to multiple steady states
This instability is observed in systems with multiple steady states
sociated with different flow directions and for most cases, the
reshold of instability cannot be predicted from the steady state laws
For symmetric rectangular loops, the existence of the multiple
eady states with differing direction manifests itself in the
npredictability of flow direction when heated during stagnant
itial conditions. However, once the flow is initiated, it continues in
e same direction even with increases in power if the loop is stable.
can also result in a flow reversal during transition from forced to
atural circulation flow.

Instability of single-phase NCS
 Static instabilities due to multiple steady states
During transition from forced to natural circulation, generally the
ow continues in the same direction as that of the initial forced flow
ue to the ‘memory effect’ caused by the residual buoyancy force
hich is proportional to the temperature difference across the
ertical legs during forced flow. However, the memory effect can be
significant and the loop ‘forgets’ its initial flow direction if the
itial forced flow is very large so that the temperature rise across the
eater is too small. Tests indicated that the loop goes through a
eriod of flow stagnation before the flow initiates again. Flow, when
restarts can be opposite to the initial forced flow direction. Other
ymmetric loops like the toroidal or figure-of-eight loop can behave
this manner.

Instability of single-phase NCS
 Dynamic instabilities
Essentially the dynamic instability in single-phase systems is also density wa
stability. The frequency of DWO in single-phase flow is very low (0.0015–0.005 H
ompared to two-phase flow (1 to 10 Hz) as the velocity of flow in single-phase NC
gnificantly lower than that in two-phase systems. In general, single-phase natur
rculation system can show two types of dynamic instabilities. They are syste
stabilities and parallel channel instabilities.
Dynamic instabilities can develop in steady single-phase natural circulation system
rough the oscillation growth mechanism. The oscillation growth is terminated by lim
ycle oscillations, which can be periodic or chaotic.
Parallel channel systems can have a dynamic instability mode, which is also related
e loose coupling of the parallel channels with the external circuit especially at low ∆
cross the parallel channels.

Instability of single-phase NCS
 Compound dynamic instabilities
Compound dynamic instabilities with the system density wave oscillatio
uperimposed on the parallel channel oscillations are possible with single-phase parall
hannel natural circulation systems. Theoretical investigations in a two channel toroid
op by Satoh et al (1998) show an in-phase and an out-of-phase oscillation mode, b
iled to cash in on the large literature available on parallel channel instabili
xperimental and theoretical study by Satou et al (2001) shows that the parallel chann
roidal system becomes unstable at a higher power than single channel system.

Instability associated with boiling inception
Boiling inception is a large enough disturbance that can bring about significant chan
the density and hence the buoyancy driving force in a NCS. A stable single-phase NC
an become unstable with the inception of boiling. A common characteristic of t
stabilities associated with boiling inception is that single-phase conditions occur durin
art of the oscillation cycle. With the bubbles entering the vertical tubes, the buoyan
rce is increased which increases the flow. As the flow is increased, the exit enthalpy
duced leading to suppression of boiling. This reduces the buoyancy force and the flo
creasing the exit enthalpy resulting in boiling and leading to the repetition of the proces
rishnan and Gulshani (1987) observed such instability in a figure-of-eight loop. Th
und that the single-phase circulation was stable. However, with power increase, the flo
ecame unstable as soon as boiling was initiated in the heated section. It is known that t
stability due to boiling inception disappears with increase in system pressure due to t
rong influence of pressure on the void fraction and hence the density. Flashing an
eysering instability also belong to this category.

Instability associated with boiling inception
 Flashing instability
Flashing instability is expected to occur in NCSs with tall, unheated risers. T
undamental cause of this instability is that the hot liquid from the heater outlet experienc
atic pressure decrease as it flows up and may reach its saturation value near the exit of t
ser causing it to vaporize. The increased driving force generated by the vaporizatio
creases the flow rate leading to reduced exit temperature and suppression of flashing. Th
turn reduces the driving force and flow causing the exit temperature to increase on
gain leading to the repetition of the process. The necessary condition for flashing is th
e fluid temperature at the inlet of the riser is greater than the saturated one at the exit. T
stability is characterized by oscillatory behaviour and is observed only in low-pressu

Instability associated with boiling inception
 Geysering
Geysering was identified by both Boure et al. (1973) and Aritomi et al. (1993) as
scillatory phenomenon which is not necessarily periodic. The proposed mechanism b
oth the investigators differ somewhat. However, a common requirement for geysering
gain a tall riser at the exit of the heated section. When the heat flux is such that boiling
itiated at the heater exit and as the bubbles begin to move up the riser they experien
udden enlargement due to the decrease in static pressure and the accompanying vap
eneration, eventually resulting in vapor expulsion from the channel. The liquid th
turns, the subcooled nonboiling condition is restored and the cycle starts once again. T
ain difference with flashing instability is that the vapor is produced first in the heat
ction in case of geysering where as in flashing the vapor is formed by the decrease of t
ydrostatic head as water flows up.

Two-phase NC instability
 Fundamental static instability
Flow excursion instability
It is also known as Ledinegg instability, after the
ientist who discovered it for the first time. It involves a
udden change in the flow rate to a lower value. The
ew flow rate may induce the occurrence of CHF. The
ccurrence of multiple steady state solutions is the
undamental cause of this instability. While drawing the
ead versus flow characteristic of NCSs, it is customary
consider the driving pressure differential as that due to
e liquid head in the downcomer which is almost
dependent of the flow rate due to the negligible friction
ressure loss . The stability criterion for the Ledinegg type
stability is given by d(∆P)/dG < 0 i.e. negative slope in
atic system characteristic. Point ‘b’ in Figure satisfies
is criterion and is therefore unstable.. 24
Two-phase NC instability
 Fundamental static instability
Boiling crisis
Following the occurrence of the critical heat flux,
region of transition boiling may be observed in
any situations as in pool boiling. During transition
oiling a film of vapour can prevent the liquid from
oming in direct contact with the heating surface
sulting in steep temperature rise and even failure.
he film itself is not stable causing repetitive wetting
nd dewetting of the heating surface resulting in an
scillatory surface temperature. The instability is
haracterized by sudden rise of wall temperature
llowed by an almost simultaneous occurrence of
ow oscillations.

Two-phase NC instability
 Compound static instability
Flow pattern transition instability
Two-phase systems exhibit different flow patterns with differences in the pressure dro
haracteristics, which is the fundamental cause of this instability. For example, the bubbl
ug flow has a higher pressure drop compared to annular flow. Consider a two-pha
CS operating near the slug to annular flow transition boundary. A small tempora
sturbance in power can slightly increase the vapour production rate causing the flo
attern to change to annular. Due to the low pressure drop in annular flow, the flow ra
creases leading to lower exit enthalpy and reduction in steam quality. The reduc
eaming rate cannot support annular flow and the flow pattern changes to slug. T
creased pressure drop of slug flow pattern reduces the flow rate which in turn increas
e exit enthalpy and steam production rate causing the flow to revert to annular and t
ycle repeats itself. Theoretical analysis of the phenomena is hampered by t
navailability of validated flow pattern specific pressure drop correlations and flow patte
ansition criteria..
Two-phase NC instability
 Dynamic instability
Regenerative feedback and time delay effects are important for dynamic instability an
ence analysis requires consideration of the unsteady governing equations. As alread
entioned DWI is the most commonly observed instability in natural circulation loops. T
echanism causing this instability is already discussed. Tall risers and long horizontal
clined pipes, can significantly influence the instability. Other geometric parameters th
fect the instability are the orientation of the source and sink, inlet orificing, length an
ameter of source, sink and connecting pipes, etc. The operating parameters th
gnificantly affect the instability are the inlet subcooling, system pressure, power, pow
stribution and cooler (or SG) secondary conditions. A number of auxiliary paramete
uch as transient heat storage in the boundary walls, variable heat transfer coefficient an
uid friction influence the instability.

Two-phase NC instability
 Compound dynamic instability
Instability is considered compound when more than one elementary mechanism
teract in the process and cannot be studied separately. If only one instability mechanism
work, it is said to be fundamental or pure instability. Examples of compound instabili
e: (1) Thermal oscillations, (2) Parallel channel instability (PCI), (3) Pressure dro
scillations and (4) BWR (Boiling Water Reactor) instability.
Thermal oscillations
In this case, the variable heat transfer coefficient leads to a variable thermal response
e heated wall that gets coupled with the DWO. Thermal oscillations are considered as
egular feature of dryout of steam-water mixtures at high pressure. The steep variatio
heat transfer coefficient typical of transition boiling conditions in a post CHF scenar
an get coupled with the DWO. During thermal oscillations, dryout or CHF point sh
ownstream or upstream depending on the flow oscillations. Hence thermal oscillations a
haracterized by large amplitude surface temperature oscillations. The large variations
e heat transfer coefficient and the surface temperature causes significant variation in t
eat transfer rate to the fluid even if the wall heat generation rate is constant. 28
Two-phase NC instability
 Compound dynamic instability
Parallel channel instability (PCI)
Experimentally, both in-phase and out-of-phase oscillations are observed in parall
hannels. However, in-phase oscillation is a system characteristic and parallel channels d
ot generally play a role in it. With in-phase oscillation, the amplitudes in different channe
an be different due to the unequal heat inputs or flow rates. Occurrence of out-of-pha
scillations is characteristic of PCI. The phase shift of out-of-phase oscillations (OPO)
nown to depend on the number of parallel channels. With two channels, a phase shift
800 is observed. With three channels, it can be 120° and with five channels it can
2°. With n-channels, Aritomi et al.(1986) reports that the phase shift can be 2π/
owever, depending on the number of channels participating, the phase shift can va
nywhere between π and 2π/n. For example, in a 3-channel system one can get phase sh
f 180° or 120° depending on whether only two or all the three channels a
articipating. The mechanism of parallel channel instability is similar to that in single-pha
ystems. PCI is initiated by events within the parallel channels and is not observable in t
ommon points of the system. 29
Two-phase NC instability
 Compound dynamic instability
Pressure drop oscillations (PDO)
Pressure drop oscillations are associated with operation in the negative sloping portio
f the pressure drop - flow curve of the system. It is caused by the interaction of
ompressible volume (surge tank or. pressurizer) at the inlet of the heated section wi
he pump characteristics and is usually observed in forced circulation systems. DW
ccurs at flow rates lower than the flow rate at which pressure drop oscillation is observe
sually, the frequency of pressure drop oscillation is much smaller and hence it is ea
distinguish it from density wave oscillations. However, with a relatively stiff system, t
equency of PDO can be comparable to DWO making it difficult to distinguish betwe
e two. Very long test sections may have sufficient internal compressibility to initia
ressure drop oscillations. Like Ledinegg instability, there is a danger of the occurrence
HF during pressure drop oscillations. Also, inlet throttling (between the surge tank and t
oiling channel) is found to stabilize PDO just as Ledinegg instability.

Two-phase NC instability
 Compound dynamic instability
BWR instability
Here the void reactivity feedback gets coupled with the flow dynamics of the densi
ave instability. The system pressure, the fuel time constant and the void reactivi
oefficient have a strong influence on the instability. It is also known as couple
eutronic-thermal hydraulic instability that manifests itself as induced power oscillatio
the core through neutronic feedback. A schematic of the BWR dynamic feedback loop
ven. Feedback due to changes in coolant and moderator temperatures are not consider
nce their magnitudes are much smaller than the feedback due to void reactivity..