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Title: Electron microscopy studies of precipitation in nuclear reactor pressure vessel steels under neutron irradiation and thermally ageing
Author: Lim, Joven Jun Hua
ISNI:       0000 0004 5362 4474
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Maintaining the safe operation of nuclear power plants (NPPs) is crucial. This requires fully understanding the mechanism of long term irradiation and thermal ageing, as well as their effects, on components including the reactor pressure vessel (RPV). The research community is collecting data that will be required to support the case for extending the operation of western-type NPPs beyond that of 60 years. One of the current dilemmas faced by the long-term operation of RPVs is the formation of nanometre scale precipitates. These precipitates are known to cause embrittlement where it increases the ductile-to-brittle transition temperature of the RPV steels. The chemistry of these precipitates is strongly dependent on the chemistry of the RPV steels. In general, these precipitates can be categorised into two types, copper-rich precipitates (CRPs) and manganese-nickel (-enriched) precipitates (MNPs) [1, 2]. The concentration of copper in the precipitates depends on the bulk content of the steel [3]. The formation mechanism of the precipitates under neutron irradiation and thermal ageing, and their influence on material degradation at high neutron fluence (Φt), is still unclear. To understand the long term precipitation under irradiation and thermal ageing, high nickel and copper containing RPV steels with a similar microstructure an chemical composition as those currently in service were subjected to either neutron irradiation (to high neutron fluences, Φt ≥ 5 x 1023 neutrons.m-2) or thermal ageing (for as long as ≈ 50,000 hours). CRPs and MNPs were both detected. The co-precipitation of the CRPs and MNPs were observed in thermally aged steels. The development of crystal structures in the CRPs is believed to be dependent on the size of the precipitates and the ambient temperature. When the CRPs reached a critical size, they underwent the martensitic transformation from BCC→9R→3R→FCC or FCT. The CRPs preferentially nucleate heterogeneously at the dislocation lines. Chemical analysis suggests that most of the CRPs are iron free. Under thermal ageing, the MNPs were found to precipitate at the interface of the CRPs and the matrix. These MNPs are found to be iron free too. Larger MNPs were often found to be at CPRs that were associated with dislocation lines. Also, based on the volume fraction observed, it is possible to suggest that the kinetics of nucleation and growth of the MNPs are relatively slow compared to the CRPs. This is in good agreement with the simulations reported in Refs. [4, 5]. It is the first time the MNPs are directly imaged from neutron irradiation low copper steels using electron microscopy. These irradiation-induced MNPs are densely populated in the neutron irradiated samples. It was found that the irradiation-induced MNPs are more sensitive to electron beams. It was thought that this was due to a relatively large amount of point defects present in the irradiation-induced MNPs.
Supervisor: Grovenor, Chris; Lozano-Perez, Sergio Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Materials engineering ; Metallurgy ; High resolution microscopy ; Electron image analysis ; Defect analysis ; Materials Sciences ; Crystallography ; Physical Sciences ; Radiation damage ; Precipitation ; Electron Microscopy ; Defects