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Predicting structural material degradation in advanced nuclear reactors with ion irradiation

by Stephen A Taller, Gerrit Van Coevering, Brian Wirth, Gary Was
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Scientific Reports
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Swelling associated with the formation and growth of cavities is among the most damaging of radiation-induced degradation modes for structural materials in advanced nuclear reactor concepts. Ion irradiation has emerged as the only practical option to rapidly assess swelling in candidate materials. For decades, researchers have tried to simulate the harsh environment in a nuclear reactor in the laboratory at an accelerated rate. Here we present the first case in which swelling in a candidate alloy irradiated ~ 2 years in a nuclear reactor was replicated using dual ion irradiation in ~ 1 day with precise control over damage rate, helium injection rate, and temperature and utilize physical models to predict the effects of radiation in reactors. The capability to predict and replicate the complex processes surrounding cavity nucleation and growth across many decades of radiation dose rate highlights the potential of accelerated radiation damage experiments. More importantly, it demonstrates the capability to predict the swelling evolution and the possibility to predict other features of the irradiated microstructure evolution that control material property degradation required to accelerate the development of new, radiation-tolerant materials.