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3D Flow and Temperature Analysis of Filling a Plutonium Mold

Nicholas P. Orenstein1, William D. Peach1, Thomas A. Jachimowski1

1Manufacturing Engineering and Technology Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory
2013 Flow-3D World Users Conference


t =0.70s

The plutonium foundry at Los Alamos National Laboratory casts products for
various special nuclear applications. However, plutoniums 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.

t =0.75s

t =1.00s

t =1.10s
t =1.20s

t =1.35s


t =1.45s

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/s2 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.

Figure 4: Actual mold and cast Pu

t =2.00s

Figure 5: Bottom cavity filling

from runner

Figure 6: Pouring and filling

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 cm3 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.


t =0.70s
Figure 7: Flow cascades over
ledge onto runner far wall
(pressure scale for Figures 5-8)

t = 6.00 - 6.75s by 0.05s increments (l to r, t to b)
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.
This final fill phase occurs in each cavity and, under different temperature conditions,
could cause undesired solidification and crystallization non-uniformities.

Figure 1: Mold drawings

Time (sec)

Fluid Properties
Plutonium, pure (Olsen, Jones)

Density (g/cm3)


Viscosity (Poise)


Specific Heat (cal/g-C)



Thermal Conductivity (W/cm-C)



Density Specific Heat (cal/g-C)


Cavity Number (bottom to top)

Solid Properties
Graphite, Carbone Lorraine 2020
Specific Heat (cal/g-C)

t =2.95s

t =3.05s

Figure 9: Cavity pressures fluctuate

to negative immediately before
completely full


Figure 3: Material properties

t =3.00s

Figure 2: Mold Assembly

Final fluid temperature

t =6.31s

Figure 10: Cavity fill times,

from first fluid contact with pouring basin


Non-uniform cavity filling could cause crystal

microstructure irregularities. In actual casting, a technician
found that the disks required excess flipping during
machining and tended to bow.
The small temperature changes seen due to large
differences in specific heat between superheated Pu and
the graphite mold occurred over a much shorter time
scale than the approximately ten minutes required for
solidification in actual casting. Flow regime and not
temperature effects are therefore responsible for casting
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. Pouring basin
emptying decreases pressure at the gates which extends
fill time of the top two cavities. A technician reported a
preference for working on the lower disks.
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 the chosen
Flow-3D solver. Unsuccessful tests were performed to
remove them by halving fluid viscosity. The fine mesh
reduced, but didnt eliminate, the extent of the fluctuations.

Figure 11:
Fluid temperature remains
essentially constant