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Optical transmission and dimensional stability of single-crystal sapphire after high-dose neutron irradiation at various temp...

by Christian M Petrie, Anthony Birri, Thomas Blue
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Journal of Nuclear Materials
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The use of single-crystal sapphire optical fibers has been considered to extend fiber-optic sensing to the extreme temperature (>1000 °C) environments encountered in nuclear applications. However, before these sapphire fiber–based sensors can be deployed, their optical transmission and dimensional stability (which impacts drift of some sensors) must be characterized under representative testing conditions. Data regarding the optical transmission of sapphire following high-dose neutron irradiation at temperatures >100 °C is extremely limited. This work provides measurements of optical density (i.e., attenuation) and directional dimensional changes in bulk single-crystal sapphire materials irradiated to a fast neutron fluence of 2.4 × 1021 n/cm2 (3.5 displacements per atom) at temperatures ranging from 95 to 688 °C. Optical density measured after irradiation at 95 and 298 °C showed ultraviolet and visible absorption bands corresponding to known defect centers and temperature trends that were generally consistent with previous ex situ and in situ measurements made at much lower neutron fluence. However, optical density measured after irradiation at 688 °C was as much as two orders of magnitude higher, indicating that the fundamental mechanism for radiation-induced attenuation changes at this irradiation temperature. Additional analysis and comparison with previous works suggest that the attenuation may result from void formation, leading to increased Rayleigh scattering losses in the material and increased swelling that would also result in drift of Bragg grating-based sensors in sapphire fibers. These results pose serious questions regarding the feasibility of sapphire fiber–based sensors for high-temperature nuclear applications.