TEM crack tip investigations of SCC
Over the last few years, TEM has become a powerful technique to study cracks and specially crack tips. However, the number of publications including TEM results has not grown as it was expected. The main reason for this might be difficulties in the sample preparation. In this work we present a novel FIB sample preparation technique which has proved to be an ideal tool for preparing cross sectional samples containing crack tips. The morphology of intergranular stress corrosion cracking (IGSCC) has been investigated in Alloy 600 subjected to constant load and slow strain rate tests in simulated primary circuit pressurized water reactor conditions. Cracks were observed to nucleate at high-angle grain boundaries and propagate to depths of a few tens of micrometer along such boundaries, still in the initiation stage. Electron diffraction, energy dispersive x-ray (EDX) and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) have been used to identify the different corrosion products and precipitates. Elemental mapping was employed to reveal changes in composition in the crack tip area. Major observations at cracks and grain boundaries include: the presence of different oxides in different locations, differences in grain boundary oxides and open crack/free surface oxides. These observations suggest that IGSCC involves oxygen diffusion through a porous oxide region along grain boundaries to the bare metal. This is a novel concept that offers an alternative to previous mechanisms proposed in the literature e.g. H embrittlement, slip-dissolution, etc., for which no supporting evidence has been found.