Microstructural investigation of irradiation assisted stress corrosion cracking mechanisms based on focused ion beam analysis of tested and industrial specimens

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Irradiation assisted stress corrosion cracking (IASCC) is an intergranular cracking effect which can occur in heavily irradiated internal structural components of nuclear reactor cores. It is a complex phenomenon which is not yet fully understood because it occurs through an interplay of several material degradation processes. The factors that influence IASCC susceptibility include irradiation damage (neutrons and other irradiation particles stemming from the nuclear fission reaction), the operating temperature of the nuclear reactor, water corrosion, operating stresses, and the composition of materials susceptible to IASCC. Such materials are typically fabricated from austenitic stainless steels because of their relatively high strength, ductility, and fracture toughness. However, besides excellent metallurgical and corrosion resistant qualities, the operating conditions may still cause severe material degradation and component failure, which is extremely important for nuclear power plant safety and lifetime managements. Despite much accumulated data in the literature, both crack initiation and crack propagation mechanisms still need to be further elucidated. To that end, a probabilistic fracture model entitled the subcritical crack propagation (SCP) was recently developed, which assumes that the oxidized part of stainless steel in front of the crack plays an essential role in the crack initiation and crack propagation in sample failures. Still, despite a very good agreement with experimental observations, the SCP model but also other contemporary models favoured within the literature, require further experimental verification to what concerns the investigation of (IA)SCC. To that end, the main objective of this doctorate was to utilize experimental instrumentations like SEM, FIB-SEM and (S)TEM to conduct the investigation of the crack initiation and propagation processes in both tested and industrial specimens. Some of the investigated materials were retrieved within a nuclear reactor and are thus considered as unique test material to investigate the material degradation processes relevant for cracking. Other specimens were tailor-made to simulate the cracking processes of irradiated materials in otherwise un-irradiated materials. The newly acquired experimental results in this doctorate help rationalize existing models and methodologies used in the literature to analyse the IASCC failures of structural materials of reactor components. These results also facilitate in the development of predictive methodologies and mitigation strategies towards IASCC cracking and provide more information on IASCC from a microstructural perspective.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Science
Awarding Institution
  • University of Antwerp
  • Schryvers, Dominique, Supervisor, External person
  • Konstantinovic, Milan, SCK CEN Mentor
  • Bosch, Rik-Wouter, SCK CEN Mentor
Date of Award22 Dec 2022
StatePublished - 22 Dec 2022

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