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What is Reynolds Number for Turbulent Flow – Definition

Turbulent flow. If the Reynolds number is greater than 3500, the flow is turbulent. Most fluid systems in nuclear facilities operate with turbulent flow. Thermal Engineering

Reynolds Number Regimes

Laminar flow. For practical purposes, if the Reynolds number is less than 2000, the flow is laminar. The accepted transition Reynolds number for flow in a circular pipe is Red,crit = 2300.

Transitional flow. At Reynolds numbers between about 2000 and 4000 the flow is unstable as a result of the onset of turbulence. These flows are sometimes referred to as transitional flows.

Turbulent flow. If the Reynolds number is greater than 3500, the flow is turbulent. Most fluid systems in nuclear facilities operate with turbulent flow.

Definition of Reynolds Number

The Reynolds number is the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces and is a convenient parameter for predicting if a flow condition will be laminar or turbulent. It can be interpreted that when the viscous forces are dominant (slow flow, low Re) they are sufficient enough to keep all the fluid particles in line, then the flow is laminar. Even very low Re indicates viscous creeping motion, where inertia effects are negligible. When the inertial forces dominate over the viscous forces (when the fluid is flowing faster and Re is larger) then the flow is turbulent.

reynolds number

It is a dimensionless number comprised of the physical characteristics of the flow. An increasing Reynolds number indicates an increasing turbulence of flow.

It is defined as:
Reynolds number

V is the flow velocity,
D is a characteristic linear dimension, (travelled length of the fluid; hydraulic diameter etc.)
ρ fluid density (kg/m3),
μ dynamic viscosity (Pa.s),
ν kinematic viscosity (m2/s);  ν = μ / ρ.

flow regime

Laminar vs. Turbulent Flow

Laminar flow:

  • Re < 2000
  • ‘low’ velocity
  • Fluid particles move in straight lines
  • Layers of water flow over one another at different speeds with virtually no mixing between layers.
  • The flow velocity profile for laminar flow in circular pipes is parabolic in shape, with a maximum flow in the center of the pipe and a minimum flow at the pipe walls.
  • The average flow velocity is approximately one half of the maximum velocity.
  • Simple mathematical analysis is possible.
  • Rare in practice in water systems.

Turbulent Flow:

  • Re > 4000
  • ‘high’ velocity
  • The flow is characterized by the irregular movement of particles of the fluid.
  • Average motion is in the direction of the flow
  • The flow velocity profile for turbulent flow is fairly flat across the center section of a pipe and drops rapidly extremely close to the walls.
  • The average flow velocity is approximately equal to the velocity at the center of the pipe.
  • Mathematical analysis is very difficult.
  • Most common type of flow.

Reynolds Number and Turbulent Flow

Flow Velocity Profile - Power-law velocity profile
velocity profiles - internal flow
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, THERMODYNAMICS, HEAT TRANSFER, AND FLUID FLOW. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1, 2 and 3. June 1992.

Power-law velocity profile – Turbulent velocity profile

Power-law velocity profileThe velocity profile in turbulent flow is flatter in the central part of the pipe (i.e. in the turbulent core) than in laminar flow. The flow velocity drops rapidly extremely close to the walls. This is due to the diffusivity of the turbulent flow.

In case of turbulent pipe flow, there are many empirical velocity profiles. The simplest and the best known is the power-law velocity profile:

Power-law velocity profile - equation

where the exponent n is a constant whose value depends on the Reynolds number. This dependency is empirical and it is shown at the picture. In short, the value n increases with increasing Reynolds number. The one-seventh power-law velocity profile approximates many industrial flows.

Turbulent flow - profiles
Turbulent flow – profiles
Internal Flow
Source: White Frank M., Fluid Mechanics, McGraw-Hill Education, 7th edition, February, 2010, ISBN: 978-0077422417

The internal flow (e.g. flow in a pipe) configuration is a convenient geometry for heating and cooling fluids used in energy conversion technologies such as nuclear power plants.

In general, this flow regime is of importance in engineering, because circular pipes can withstand high pressures and hence are used to convey liquids. Non-circular ducts are used to transport low-pressure gases, such as air in cooling and heating systems.

For internal flow regime an entrance region is typical. In this region a nearly inviscid upstream flow converges and enters the tube. To characterize this region the hydrodynamic entrance length is introduced and is approximately equal to:

hydrodynamic entrance length

The maximum hydrodynamic entrance length, at ReD,crit = 2300 (laminar flow), is Le = 138d, where D is the diameter of the pipe. This is the longest development length possible. In turbulent flow, the boundary layers grow faster, and Le is relatively shorter. For any given problem, Le / D has to be checked to see if Le is negligible when compared to the pipe length. At a finite distance from the entrance, the entrance effects may be neglected, because the boundary layers merge and the inviscid core disappears. The tube flow is then fully developed.

Hydraulic Diameter

Since the characteristic dimension of a circular pipe is an ordinary diameter D and especially reactors contains non-circular channels, the characteristic dimension must be generalized.

For these purposes the Reynolds number is defined as:

Reynolds number - hydraulic diameter

where Dh is the hydraulic diameter:

Hydraulic Diameter - equation

Hydraulic DiameterThe hydraulic diameter, Dh, is a commonly used term when handling flow in non-circular tubes and channels. The hydraulic diameter transforms non-circular ducts into pipes of equivalent diameter. Using this term, one can calculate many things in the same way as for a round tube. In this equation A is the cross-sectional area, and P is the wetted perimeter of the cross-section. The wetted perimeter for a channel is the total perimeter of all channel walls that are in contact with the flow.

Example: Reynolds number for a primary piping and a fuel bundle
It is an illustrative example, following data do not correspond to any reactor design.

Pressurized water reactors are cooled and moderated by high-pressure liquid water (e.g. 16MPa). At this pressure water boils at approximately 350°C (662°F). Inlet temperature of the water is about 290°C (⍴ ~ 720 kg/m3). The water (coolant) is heated in the reactor core to approximately 325°C (⍴ ~ 654 kg/m3) as the water flows through the core.

Hydraulic Diameter
The hydraulic diameter of fuel rods bundle.

The primary circuit of typical PWRs is divided into 4 independent loops (piping diameter ~ 700mm), each loop comprises a steam generator and one main coolant pump. Inside the reactor pressure vessel (RPV), the coolant first flows down outside the reactor core (through the downcomer). From the bottom of the pressure vessel, the flow is reversed up through the core, where the coolant temperature increases as it passes through the fuel rods and the assemblies formed by them.


  • the primary piping flow velocity is constant and equal to 17 m/s,
  • the core flow velocity is constant and equal to 5 m/s,
  • the hydraulic diameter of the fuel channel, Dh, is equal to 1 cm
  • the kinematic viscosity of the water at 290°C is equal to 0.12 x 10-6 m2/s

See also: Example: Flow rate through a reactor core


  • the flow regime and the Reynolds number inside the fuel channel
  • the flow regime and the Reynolds number inside the primary piping

The Reynolds number inside the primary piping is equal to:

ReD = 17 [m/s] x 0.7 [m] / 0.12×10-6 [m2/s] = 99 000 000

This fully satisfies the turbulent conditions.

The Reynolds number inside the fuel channel is equal to:

ReDH = 5 [m/s] x 0.01 [m] / 0.12×10-6 [m2/s] = 416 600

This also fully satisfies the turbulent conditions.

Reactor Physics and Thermal Hydraulics:
  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. Todreas Neil E., Kazimi Mujid S. Nuclear Systems Volume I: Thermal Hydraulic Fundamentals, Second Edition. CRC Press; 2 edition, 2012, ISBN: 978-0415802871
  6. Zohuri B., McDaniel P. Thermodynamics in Nuclear Power Plant Systems. Springer; 2015, ISBN: 978-3-319-13419-2
  7. Moran Michal J., Shapiro Howard N. Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, Fifth Edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-470-03037-0
  8. Kleinstreuer C. Modern Fluid Dynamics. Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4020-8670-0.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, THERMODYNAMICS, HEAT TRANSFER, AND FLUID FLOW. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1, 2 and 3. June 1992.
  10. White Frank M., Fluid Mechanics, McGraw-Hill Education, 7th edition, February, 2010, ISBN: 978-0077422417

See also:

Reynolds Number

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