Zirconium alloys for high burn-up fuel in current and advanced light water-cooled reactors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

In order to improve the efficiency of modern nuclear reactors, reduce operating costs and minimise nuclear waste the fuel manufacturers together with plant operators and nuclear waste agencies are trying to develop fuel assemblies, which can operate for substantially longer times than what is currently achieved. Since Uranium-enrichment technology has progressed significantly in the last two decades it is now the fuel cladding material that limits the level of energy produced from a fuel assembly (termed burn-up by the nuclear industry). Increasing the so-called burn-up of fuel assemblies will improve the fuel economy/fuel usage of civil nuclear reactors, extend refuelling cycles (i.e. reduce the number of shutdowns for refuelling the reactor), and hence reduce the operating costs and nuclear waste. In modern nuclear reactors fuel cladding is based on zirconium alloys due to their good performance in the environment of water-cooled reactors and their transparency to neutrons. The time the cladding material can operate in such an environment (and therefore the level of energy that can be produced from a fuel assembly) is proportional to the corrosion properties. Longer lasting cladding material would require zirconium alloys with a more protective oxide layer, which would avoid any accelerated corrosion, breakaway of the oxide layer and protect against hydrogen pick-up. To date, any development in this area has been purely empirical and has not resulted in the required step change, which would allow operating the fuel assemblies to the desired burn-up. The scientific basis of this application is to address these issues by studying the influence and inter-relationships of all relevant microstructural features, local stresses, electronic defects in the oxide, in both commercial and model alloys when corrosion tested in an autoclave environment. This requires the project team to use the latest generation of analytical techniques in a coherent, interdisciplinary program. In addition our industrial partners provide access to additional specialist facilities such as autoclaves or melting facilities to produce model alloys. The key theme is to develop a mechanistic understanding of the corrosion process to enable the development of physically-based models, which will enable the design and full exploitation of alloys optimized to delay breakaway oxidation and oxidation growth. The research will be undertaken by a multi-university team, encouraging PhD students and post-doctoral research associates to form a core group of researchers who work together to exploit world-class facilities from different institutions.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description This research has greatly contributed to understanding of the corrosion behaviour of zirconium alloys. These alloys are widely used in the nuclear power industry, so being able to better understand the behaviour of the material means its lifespan can be more accurately predicted. This has significant impact on the safe, efficient and economical operation of nuclear reactors.
Exploitation Route As above, this project has been of great interest to nuclear fuel manufacturers and plant operators. A number of these stakeholders became closely involved on MUZIC, and even more sowith the follow-on MUZIC-2 and MUZIC-3 programmes.
Sectors Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description The work of this collaborative project has had R&D impact for a number of key industrial partners and stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally. The results have been taken forward to form the basis of the 'MUZIC-2' collaboration, which in turn has led to the forthcoming 'MUZIC-2'. These collaborations again involve a number of UK/international industrial and academic partners.
Sector Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description EDF - R&D
Amount £120,000 (GBP)
Funding ID contribution to MUZIC-2 
Organisation EDF Energy 
Department EDF Innovation and Research
Sector Private
Country France
Start 04/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Description EDF - R&D
Amount £120,000 (GBP)
Funding ID contribution to MUZIC-2 
Organisation EDF Energy 
Department EDF Innovation and Research
Sector Private
Country France
Start 01/2013 
End 12/2016
 
Description Rolls-Royce Plc
Amount £45,000 (GBP)
Funding ID co-funding of DTA studentship 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Rolls-Royce Plc
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID top up funding for CDT advanced metallic systems studentship 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Rolls-Royce Plc
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Top up funding for CDT PhD student 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description UK-India Civil Nuclear Collaboration Phase 3
Amount £491,287 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M018105/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 08/2019
 
Description AMEC 
Organisation AMEC
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Contribution to R&D, trained future staff
Collaborator Contribution funding of PhD students, autoclave testing
Impact Phd students now working for AMEC, enhanced general understanding of their product
 
Description EDF 
Organisation EDF Energy
Department EDF Innovation and Research
Country France 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Contribution to R&D knowledge
Collaborator Contribution funding of PhD students and providing access to EDF facilities
Impact PhD student now working for EDF, provided improved understanding of their product
Start Year 2007
 
Description NNL 
Organisation National Nuclear Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Contribution to R&D
Collaborator Contribution funding of PhD student
Impact training of staff and PhD students now working for NNL
Start Year 2007
 
Description Rolls-Royce plc 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2007
 
Description Westinghouse 
Organisation Siemens AG
Department Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution contribution to R&D knowledge
Collaborator Contribution top up of PhD students, fully funded PhD students and materials including irradiated materials
Impact Some of our PhD students now work for Westinghouse in Sweden and the USA. We also improved WH's understanding of their product.