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Qualitative and quantitative analysis of neutron irradiation effects in SiC/SiC composites using X-ray computed tomography...

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Composites Part B: Engineering
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Silicon carbide fiber-reinforced silicon carbide matrix (SiC/SiC) composites are candidate materials for cladding of light water reactor (LWR) fuels. Loss of fission product gas retention due to the formation of microcrack networks is considered a potential failure mechanism for SiC/SiC-cladded fuels. In this study, a variety of SiC/SiC composite tubes were irradiated with and without an LWR-relevant radial heat flux in the High Flux Isotope Reactor, followed by detailed characterization with X-ray computed tomography (XCT). This first set of XCT data for neutron-irradiated samples confirmed that the internal stresses arising from a combination of temperature gradients and irradiation-induced swelling act as the primary driver for cracking. While the observed cracking patterns varied depending on the tube architectures, the sharp edges of relatively large pores were found to be the common stress concentrator. These findings are useful to help improve the design and manufacturing of SiC/SiC fuel claddings for reduced failure probability.