During normal plant operations and in normal operating temperatures, the hydrogen generation is not significant. When the nuclear fuel overheats, zirconium in Zircaloy cladding used in fuel rods oxidizes in reaction with steam:

Zr + 2H2O → ZrO2 + 2H2
When mixed with air, hydrogen is flammable, and hydrogen detonation or deflagration may damage the reactor containment. In reactor designs with small containment volumes, such as in Mark I or II containments, the preferred method for managing hydrogen is pre-inerting with inert gas—generally nitrogen—to reduce the oxygen concentration in air below that needed for hydrogen combustion, and the use of thermal recombiners. Pre-inerting is considered impractical with larger containment volumes where thermal recombiners and deliberate ignition are used.

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