Microstructural investigation and identification of intermetallic σ-phase in solution annealed 316L-type austenitic stainless steel

Amke Lescur, Erich Stergar, Jun Lim, Stijn Hertelé, Roumen Petrov

    Research outputpeer-review


    MYRRHA (Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications) is an accelerator driven system, currently under development at SCK CEN in Mol, Belgium. This nuclear system will use liquid Lead-Bismuth eutectic alloy as a spallation target for fast neutron production and as coolant. The ideal structural material for a liquid metal cooled reactor should be unsusceptible to both liquid metal embrittlement and liquid metal corrosion, while possessing high toughness. Nuclear grade austenitic stainless steels similar to AISI 316L have therefore been chosen as the main candidate structural materials for MYRRHA. In the framework of the qualification of those candidates, a specific batch of this material has shown unexpectedly poor mechanical properties, which triggered the need of in-depth microstructural analysis. The behaviour was attributed to the unexpected and undesired presence of intermetallic σ-phase. The σ-phase was identified with a high confidence by combining the data for chemical composition from energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and crystallographic information from electron backscatter diffraction by comparing simulated Kikuchi diffraction patterns with experimentally recorded ones. At first sight the optical appearance of σ-phase resembles δ-ferrite islands, which results in the risk of overlooking this when only classical material qualification methods are used. When left undetected, testing this material including the brittle σ-phase in a liquid metal environment, in combination with miniature mechanical test specimens, could lead to misinterpretation of embrittlement of the austenitic matrix.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number111524
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalMaterials Characterization
    StatePublished - 20 Oct 2021

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