The efficiency of ex-core cooling of nuclear fuel assemblies under decay heat generation is influenced by many conditions, among them being coolant flow rate, position of fuel assemblies in a water pool, and position of coolant inlets and outlets. Although the decay heat generation is lower than the nominal heat power of fuel bundles in operation, the much lower coolant flow rates and coolant inlets and outlets positions can lead to incidents conditions, with a violation of the fuel assembly integrity. Such a combination of unacceptable thermal-hydraulic conditions occurred at the Nuclear Power Plant Paks in Hungary in April 2003, during the process of nuclear fuel assembly chemical cleaning in a specially designed tank. The cooling of the nuclear fuel rod bundles in the tank was not efficient under low coolant flow rates through the cleaning tank, and after several hours the boiling of cooling water occurred with subsequent dry-out of nuclear fuel rod bundles. The thermal-hydraulic conditions in the cleaning tank that led to the unexpected event are analysed both analytically and with a CFD approach for idealised conditions of one nuclear fuel rod bundle with the bottom by-pass opening. The analytical analysis is based on a pressure balance of low Reynolds number upward water coolant flow through the bundle, downward water flow in the pool around the bundle, flow across the by-pass opening and outlet flow from the cleaning vessel. The transient CFD simulations are performed in order to demonstrate multidimensional effects of the event. The water density dependence on the temperature is taken into account in both analytical and CFD investigation, as the dominant effect that influences the buoyancy forces between the water flow streams inside and outside the vertically positioned bundle in the water pool. The influence of the bundle bottom by-pass area on the water pool thermal-hydraulic conditions and on the efficiency of the nuclear fuel rods cooling is analysed. Both analytical and CFD results show that the continuous cooling of the fuel rods can not be achieved for higher values of the bundle bottom by-pass areas. The averaged coolant temperature in the water pool outside the bundle becomes higher than the average temperature along the rod bundle, providing a “negative” buoyancy force that tends to stop the upward coolant flow through the bundle, and, hence, increases the coolant flow through the bundle by-pass at the bottom. The critical value of the by-pass area, above which the rod bundle cooling is deteriorated, is predicted.

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