Irradiation Effects on Flow Localisation in Zirconium Alloys

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials


This project focuses on energy and more specifically on nuclear fission. Core material such as fuel assemblies are exposed to irradiation from the moment a nuclear reactor is switched on. The bombardment of material with neutrons creates collision cascades that immediately produce point defects and dislocations in the material. This results in very significant changes of the material properties compared to non-irradiated material.Nuclear fuel for light water reactors is contained by so-called cladding tubes, which are made from zirconium alloys because of their excellent corrosion resistance, sufficient mechanical properties and their low neutron absorption coefficient. Nuclear fuel is enriched initially with 5% 235U. However, the fuel cannot be fully burned due to the uncertainty of clad material degradation and dimensional instability of fuel assemblies. The safe operation of nuclear fuel assemblies requires a complete understanding of the mechanical properties of irradiated material. For instance, when strained plastically, irradiated materials display severe flow localisation and in the case of zirconium also a change from prismatic to basal slip. Consequently, we need to develop a detailed understanding of the mechanisms leading to these phenomena and how they are affected by material chemistry and the microstructure evolution during irradiation.During the 1960s and 70s many countries including the UK had test reactors that allowed scientists to undertake research on irradiated material. However, most of these test reactors are gone now and it is unlikely that the UK or other countries will build many new test reactors. For this reason, governments have invested in proton/ion accelerators to simulate neutron irradiation. The advantage of such facilities is that they are by many order of magnitudes cheaper to run than a test reactor. However, our understanding of how well neutron induced damage is related to proton/ion induced damage is limited. Since Zr alloys are relatively mildly active when irradiated by neutrons, they represent also an ideal material to calibrate proton/ion against neutron irradiation.The research will be undertaken in a collaborative effort between the UK and India with the aim to train Indian researchers to undertake advanced electron back scatter diffraction (EBSD) and synchrotron x-ray diffraction experiments. Neutron irradiated material will be provided by the TIFR/BARC facility, Mumbai, India while ion irradiation will be carried out at the new Dalton Cumbria Facility in the UK.

Planned Impact

Mechanical properties effected by irradiation defects in cladding material as well as cladding corrosion and the associated hydrogen pickup are generally recognized as the major limitations on the lifetime (burnup) achievable from light water reactor fuel. Today, nuclear fuel, which goes into a nuclear reactor, will not be fully burned because it is not clear if the material that contains the fuel is robust enough to sustain such high burnup . Once, fuel cladding material has gone into a reactor, the mechanical properties of the material changes dramatically, which is clearly of relevance for the performance of the fuel assemblies. The utilities, i.e. operators of nuclear power plants, have an interest to keep the fuel assemblies in a reactor for as long as possible since it will enable them to operate nuclear power stations in a more efficient way (fewer shut downs) and produce less nuclear waste. Regulators demand from the nuclear industry that they operate their reactors in a safe manner. Today, regulators increasingly expect utilities and fuel manufacturers to develop more physically based predictions, which are only possible if the deformation mechanisms of irradiated clad is understood. In summary, operating nuclear power stations in the most efficient and safe way while producing as little as possible of nuclear waste must be clearly in all our interest and consequently the society as a whole will benefit from this project. A second crucial aspect of this project is that it will train young people in an area where there is a severe shortage of expertise in the UK and globally. It cannot be emphasised enough that the understanding of material performance under irradiation is crucial and it is the nuclear industry, the regulators, national laboratories and academia that all require engineers and scientists that are educated to work in this environment. Finally, the UK needs to link up with other nations in a worldwide effort to use nuclear power in the safest and most efficient way. The UK will train Indian researchers in using some of the most advanced experimental methodologies to characterise irradiated material.


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Description We have improved our understanding of deformation mechanisms related to processing of Zr alloys used by the nuclear industry.
Exploitation Route We have been awarded further EPSRC funding for follow-on work, under the UK-India Phase III call. The title of this project is "From Processing to Simulated In-Reactor Performance of Zr Cladding". It aims to develop new understanding in the field of Zirconium processing and its relationship to in-reactor performance. In order to link these two aspects, a critical element of the project will be to develop in situ degradation set-ups during proton irradiation at the newly established Dalton Cumbrian Facility (DCF), which houses a 5MV Pelletron accelerator. This will be undertaken in collaboration with IGCAR, who will also implement such in situ set-ups at their Particle Irradiation Facility, which has a 1.7 MV Tandetron accelerator.

This project is due to begin imminently.

We are also in discussion with Rolls-Royce to exploit our findings.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Rolls-Royce is trying to develop process models for predicting microstructure development during forming of Zr alloys. Our mechanistic understanding will be used by RR to develop a more physically informed model. We have also continued to develop the area of characterising flow localisation and have published a follow on paper in 2019 and this research is now part of one of the four key challenges in our EPSRC programme grant MIDAS.
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description MIDAS - Mechanistic understanding of Irradiation Damage in fuel Assemblies
Amount £7,226,655 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S01702X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 01/2024
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 Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 08/2019
Description BARC, India 
Organisation Barco
Country Belgium 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution BARC is the national nuclear institute in India and they are partner in this project
Collaborator Contribution They have matched the funding with research on their side.
Impact papers
Start Year 2011
Description IGCAR 
Organisation Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR)
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution UK-India Phase III project partners. Manchester will process, test and characterise samples, including irradiation studies at DCF.
Collaborator Contribution RCUK project partner in India. Will collaborate on research objectives and also contribute materials (small samples).
Impact UK-India Phase I project led directly to this Phase III project.
Start Year 2008
Description Wood plc 
Organisation Wood Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution informing and advising Wood
Collaborator Contribution Direct and in-kind contribution.
Impact Some of our PhD students now work for Wood
Start Year 2015