MIDAS - Mechanistic understanding of Irradiation Damage in fuel Assemblies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

In order to meet the UK's carbon reduction targets, and achieve an energy mix that produces less CO2, we must continue to investigate ways in which to make nuclear power cleaner, cheaper and safer. At the same time, as new reactors such as Hinkley Point C are built, the UK needs to develop the work force who will operate, regulate and solve technical problems in civil nuclear power, in order to capitalise on our investment in nuclear energy. Important in this respect is that the UK currently operates mainly old advanced gas-cooled reactors, fundamentally different from the next fleet of UK nuclear power stations, which will be light-water reactors. Key to this change, in terms of this research project, is that Zirconium is a preferred fuel cladding material in LWRs.

A major part of a nuclear reactor is the fuel assembly - the structure that encapsulates the highly radioactive nuclear fuel. Understanding the performance of the materials used to make these assemblies is critical for safe, efficient operation, and they must be able to maintain their structure during normal operation, handling and storage, as well as survive in the unlikely event of an accident, when they become crucial in preventing the escape of radioactive materials. Because of the need to operate nuclear reactors as safely as possible, fuel is often removed well before it is spent, as we currently do not know enough about fuel assembly materials, so must adopt a highly cautious, safety-first approach. This does mean, however, that it is more costly to run a reactor, as assemblies must be replaced well before all the fuel is consumed, and this also means the assembly then - prematurely - becomes additional nuclear waste, which must be safely handed and stored, at further high cost.

By gaining greater understanding of how assembly materials perform when irradiated, we will be able to make more accurate safety cases, which will mean that fuel assemblies can be used for longer periods without additional risk. Such knowledge will enable the UK to operate the next generation of reactors far more efficiently, significantly reducing the cost of nuclear power. This is particularly important now, given that the UK is going to have light-water, instead of advanced gas-cooled, reactors, and with it the fuel assembly and its material will change very fundamentally.
This research effort will also significantly benefit other countries using nuclear energy, which will establish the UK as a centre of expertise in the area. This will further attract inward investment in research and development in the UK, creating future wealth and employment alongside cleaner energy.

A second key theme of the project will be to explore the use of zirconium alloys in critical components for future fusion reactors. The UK has a leading position in defining the materials that will be chosen for the ITER and DEMO international fusion projects, and this theme will contribute to maintaining the UK's reputation as a centre of excellence in fusion research.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit? UK and international nuclear energy companies and supply chains. The community developing future fusion machines.
How might they benefit? MIDAS will generate far deeper understanding of key nuclear fuel assembly degradation mechanisms during normal operation, fuel storage and accident scenarios. Improved understanding will feed into more physically informed performance codes, improving safety cases, reducing nuclear energy costs, and reducing produced and stored nuclear waste. Specific impacts should include new cladding compositions with higher burnup levels (manufacture and operation), zero fuel failure in normal operation, and safer storage through improved assembly handling and better definition of storage parameters. MIDAS will bring better understanding of accident performance, reducing uncertainty in structural integrity predictions and developing guidance on modified fuel cladding for greater accident tolerance, as well as improving normal operation. One day of reactor downtime costs an operator ~£1M, so by safely operating fuel assemblies for longer savings run into £10Bns during a reactor lifetime, including waste management costs. Even small improvements in performance, or limited relaxation of safety-driven rod out-loading scheduling, will result in very large economic benefits to UK and international civil power industries.
The new work proposed on Zr alloys for future fusion breeder blanket designs will expand options available to the fusion community, where materials selection for performance-critical assemblies is proving extremely difficult - relying on alloys like EUROFER that have never been manufactured at the necessary scale. Pre-existing, nuclear-qualified Zr-alloys could play a major part in solving these issues.

Who: UK nuclear workforce.
How: MIDAS will contribute to the challenge of developing the next generation of nuclear researchers, growing the UK skills-base and retaining UK talent, by training PDRAs and ~30 PhD students. We will generate a new workforce trained in nuclear research strategies, planning campaigns on active materials, and working with industry and national lab partners. Many alumni will progress to industry, providing direct knowledge transfer of specialist techniques and modelling tools developed in MIDAS. Some will join regulators (with a shortage of staff experienced in radiation damage), or become next generation young academics, building nuclear research groups.

Who: UK Government - clean energy strategy.
How: MIDAS will contribute to UK strategy for a CO2-free energy mix, influencing policy and investment via its focus on safety-critical material systems used in new fleet LWRs, e.g. Hinkley Point C. MIDAS will help UK Govt achieve its Nov 2017 White Paper aim to "continue to work closely with the nuclear [industry] to further drive down the costs of clean power, while building UK supply chains".

Who: UK nuclear research community.
How: MIDAS will be demonstrate the potential of high-impact advanced post-irradiation examination, establishing the UK as the go-to place for this in future irradiation campaigns, generating inward investment. The UK has already been selected as the best place for work on this unique sample set (£10M worth), and MIDAS will further position the UK as a centre of excellence in active nuclear materials research.

Who: National Nuclear User Facility; Henry Royce Institute.
How: MIDAS is the only UK research team with access to any significant volume of active material. The team will make extended use of National Nuclear User Facilities (NNL, Dalton Cumbrian Facility, the new Materials Research Facility at Culham), and Henry Royce Institute facilities. This will demonstrate to Govt the benefit of considerable investment to-date in these facilities, contributing to their output/impact, and future-proofing UK capability development by raising the nation's profile in nuclear research, attracting further investment.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have found evidence that XRD analysis captures the entire size distribution of dislocation loops whereas TEM does most likely miss out the smallest loops.
Exploitation Route We are in discussion with MRF, CEA and Wood about establishing XRD analysis as a routine analysis when working with irradiated material.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy

 
Description Development of advanced nuclear fuel - BEIS - Phase 2
Amount £448,455 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 03/2021
 
Description EPSRC iCASE 2020 x2 (Westinghouse)
Amount £245,392 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2020 
End 10/2025
 
Description Wood PhD (SS)
Amount £79,153 (GBP)
Organisation Wood Group 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 09/2025
 
Description Wood PhD top-up (KL)
Amount £35,000 (GBP)
Organisation Wood Group 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 03/2023
 
Title CMWP Development 
Description Prof. (Henrik) Tamas Ungar has been undertaking work at Manchester, supported by a number of grants, developing further his technique of Convolutional Multiple Whole Profile (CMWP) for X-ray diffraction (XRD) line profile analysis. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact As well as refining the method and its implementation, Tamas has been training Masters and PhD students, research associates, and technical-focused industrial partners, helping to disseminate the use of the tool in research practice. 
 
Title AmpleTracks 
Description Bespoke database for collection and collation of data relating to sample set/s and data output (experimental and modelling] from MIDAS. Database will have a branching structure, to track "families" of data, and to keep child samples (e.g. TEM foils) linked to their parent sample. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Database under development (March 2020), with an independent supplier. We believe this has the potential to be used, longer-term, beyond the MIDAS group, and may become a useful and impactful research tool. 
 
Description Bangor University 
Organisation Bangor University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Knowledge exchange. Bangor added as an associate member of MIDAS network.
Collaborator Contribution Academic expertise of linked academic; affiliation of two PhD studentships to MIDAS.
Impact Bilateral knowledge exchange and research collaboration between Bangor and the MIDAS team. The two Bangor PhD students affiliated to MIDAS will benefit from access to a larger programme and wider network.
Start Year 2019
 
Description CEA 
Organisation Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA)
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Research and knowledge exchange.
Collaborator Contribution Membership of MIDAS Independent Advisory Board.
Impact Bilateral knowledge exchange and research strategy advice.
Start Year 2019
 
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. Membership of advisory bodies (e.g. MIDAS Impact Monitoring Working Group).
Impact Several EDF-sponsored PhD students now working for EDF/other organisations in related fields; provided improved understanding of their product.
Start Year 2007
 
Description EPRI 
Organisation Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Feed in results from MIDAS and MUZIC to both EPRI and the NFIR consortium (led by a senior EPRI employee).
Collaborator Contribution Two senior EPRI employeers share a seat on the MIDAS Independent Advisory Board. Key members of NFIR, the consortium by which the BOR-60 samples were irradiated Heavily involved in the "MUZIC" consortium.
Impact NFIR irradiation campaign at the BOR-60 reactor was critical in obtaining the Zr sample set on which MIDAS is based.
Start Year 2019
 
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.
 
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
 
Description ASTM conference 2019 - discussion on hydrogen in Zr 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was a workshop on a specific topic related to Zr alloys used by the nuclear industry and it was organised as a fringe event of the ASTm Zr conference in Manchester.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Harwell workshop on active lab at Diamond 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This workshop focused on the next steps to enable resreacjh at the Harwell complex including the large-scale resreahc facilities to work on active materials for nuclear application.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited talks at the ASTM conference for Zirconium alloys for Nuclear application - Manchester- 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The MIDAS team had 8 invited talks/poster at the ASTM conference for Zirconium alloys for nuclear applications. This is a highly prestigious conference with a single session only and about 45 talks in total. The number talks from the MIDAS team versus total number of talks demonstrates the research power of the UK in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description MIDAS website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact MIDAS website, including descriptions of the research and publicly available results,, research capabilities, the team (inc. associated PhDs), publications and outputs, news and events, partners, routes to engagement, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.zr-midas.org/
 
Description Meeting in USA to contribute to NEUP programme of hydrogen in Zr led by Prof Arthur Motrta 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In the US, there is a programme funded by DOE on hydrogen in Zirconium and MIDAS members were invited to present UK work at the meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description NFIR workshop May 2019 in Switzerland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The NFIR group has been responsible for irradiating the material we work with and this was one for their bi-annual meetings where MIDAS representation was invited to report on progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Pre ASTM Zr conference event in Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This workshop was held a day before the ASTM conference on Zr for nuclear applications and was targeted at post graduate students. The speakers were from the nuclear industry in Europe, Canada and the topics of the talks were about giving an outlook on the research need in this field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talk at MIMES - Oct 2019 - invited talk - Tamas Ungar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk on diffraction analysis of dislocation loops
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on UK requirements for neutron irradiation facility utilisation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was a workshop to discuss utilisation of irradiation facilities and how UK irradiation campaigns could be developed and the importance of advanced PIE.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019