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Testing fast reactor fuels in a thermal reactor: Comparison of transmutation metallic fuel alloys behavior by scanning electron microscopy

by Luca Capriotti, Fidelma Di Lemma, Jason M Harp
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Journal of Nuclear Materials
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To optimize nuclear waste repository performance, the destruction of minor actinide elements, particularly Np and Am, in a neutron fast spectrum reactor is possible by incorporating these elements into nuclear fuel. Evaluating the performance of minor actinide containing fuel is of paramount importance to enabling this technology. However, such a task is challenging without an available domestic fast spectrum test reactor. A comparison of fuel performance tested in an available domestic thermal reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, the Advanced Test Reactor, and in a fast spectrum reactor in France (Phénix) is presented in this study. This study evaluates the capability of using a cadmium shrouded test position to mimic the power profile along the fuel radius present in fast spectrum reactors so that thermally driven phenomenon (e.g., constituent redistribution) can be evaluated in a thermal reactor and determined to be prototypical of a fast reactor. Thus, optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy has been performed on irradiated 35U-29Pu-4Am-2Np-30Zr fuel samples (where the number preceding the element is the weight percent concentration) from the two mentioned reactors that present similar irradiation temperatures and power conditions. The results indicate that fuel performance phenomena are reproducible in the two irradiation conditions. The redistribution of Zr occurred in the same manner for the two samples. Similar partitioning of U-Pu-Zr phases was observed, and the behavior of Am was similar in the analyzed specimens. Finally, the overall microstructure evolution seems not to be affected by minor actinides addition compared to expected behavior of conventional U-19Pu-10Zr ternary metal fuels for both specimens. Slight differences in fuel cladding chemical interaction were, however, observed. This difference is likely driven by difference in cladding composition rather than irradiation conditions.