Major accidents that were affected by hydrogen fires and explosions included Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima Daiichi. Smaller piping explosions have occurred at Hamaoka and Brunsbüttel Nuclear Power Plants. An overview of pertinent topics is presented here to compare similarities and differences between these accidents.

In particular, a hydrogen ignition mechanism is presented here, where fluid transients, or water hammer, may cause pressures to compress flammable hydrogen gas in reactor systems. As the gas compresses, it heats to temperatures sufficient to cause autoignition, or dieseling. Autoignition then leads to fires or explosions in nuclear power plant systems.

To explain this evolving theory on hydrogen ignition during fires and explosions, various nuclear power plant hydrogen accidents require discussion. For example, Chernobyl explosions were unaffected by water hammer, while a Three Mile Island hydrogen fire was a direct result of water hammer following a reactor meltdown, and explosions that followed a meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi occurred during a water hammer event. Other piping damages also occurred during water hammer events. The primary purpose of this paper is to serve as a literature review of past accidents and to provide new insights into those accidents.

In short, what is known versus what is unknown is discussed here with respect to the ignition sources of nuclear power plant fires and explosions. How can nuclear power plant safety be assured unless previous fire and explosion causes are understood? Prior to this work, they were not understood.

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