A study into the impact of interface roughness development on mechanical degradation of oxides formed on zirconium alloys

P. Platt, S. Wedge, P. Frankel, M. Gass, R. Howells, M. Preuss

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As a cladding material used to encapsulate nuclear fuel pellets, zirconium alloys are the primary barrier separating the fuel and a pressurised steam or lithiated water environment. Degradation mechanisms such as oxidation can be the limiting factor in the life-time of the fuel assembly. Key to controlling oxidation, and therefore allowing increased burn-up of fuel, is the development of a mechanistic understanding of the corrosion process. In an autoclave, the oxidation kinetics for zirconium alloys are typically cyclical, with periods of accelerated kinetics being observed in steps of ∼2 μm oxide growth. These periods of accelerated oxidation are immediately preceded by the development of a layer of lateral cracks near the metal-oxide interface, which may be associated with the development of interface roughness. The present work uses scanning electron microscopy to carry out a statistical analysis of changes in the metal-oxide interface roughness between three different alloys at different stages of autoclave oxidation. The first two alloys are Zircaloy-4 and ZIRLO™ for which analysis is carried out at stages before, during and after first transition. The third alloy is an experimental low tin alloy, which under the same oxidation conditions and during the same time period does not appear to go through transition. Assessment of the metal-oxide interface roughness is primarily carried out based on the root mean square of the interface slope known as the Rdq parameter. Results show clear trends with relation to transition points in the corrosion kinetics. Discussion is given to how this relates to the existing mechanistic understanding of the corrosion process, and the components required for possible future modelling approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-174
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Nuclear Materials
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes

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