Microstructural characterization of cold-worked 316 stainless steel flux thimble tubes irradiated up to 100 dpa in a commercial Pressurized Water Reactor


Two flux thimble tubes (FTTs) made of 15% cold-worked 316 stainless steel (SS) were harvested from Ringhals Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) Unit 2, with peak damages of 76 and 100 displacements per atom (dpa) after 29 and 34 years' service, respectively. Specimens sectioned from parent tubes were comprehensively characterized with nominal damage levels of ∼0, ∼41, ∼74, 76, and 100 dpa at a nominal temperature range of 285–323 °C. Both FTTs contained helium and hydrogen gases as transmutation products. The helium follows a production rate of ∼9.8 appm/dpa, while environmental factors complicate hydrogen production obscuring an exact H/dpa ratio. Irradiation-induced dislocation loops, nano-cavities, solute clusters, and microsegregation were all observed. The dislocation loops and nano-cavities indicated saturation at 41 dpa. The solute clusters continued to evolve with Ni–Si clusters formed at 41 dpa, and Ni–Si–Mn–P clusters formed at 74 and 100 dpa, but neither clusters exhibited distinct diffraction patterns at any damage levels. Solute clusters were observed to frequently be co-located with dislocation loops, but fully decorated loops were rarely detected. Significant radiation-induced segregation (RIS) was observed around grain boundaries at all damage levels. The modified inverse Kirkendall (MIK) model captured the RIS behavior of major elements. Large cavities within or around an Mn–S rich region were observed for the first time. Through all the damage levels, void swelling is always below 0.05%, making significant dimensional change unlikely in core internals when used at similar conditions. Meanwhile, the role of overwhelming nanocavities, presumably helium bubbles, should be considered in other potential degradation mechanisms, including irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking, embrittlement, and loss of fracture toughness, which remain the concerns for extended operation of nuclear power plants.

In: Journal of Nuclear Materials, (541), pp. 152400, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnucmat.2020.152400