Skip to main content

On the thermal oxidation of nuclear graphite relevant to high-temperature gas cooled reactors...

Publication Type
Journal Name
Journal of Nuclear Materials
Publication Date
Page Numbers
154103 to 154103

Thermal oxidation of nuclear graphite components is highly undesirable because it can cause structural and property degradation that negatively affect a reactor's intended operation. In this work, the body of knowledge of nuclear graphite oxidation is highlighted, including when O2, H2O, and/or CO2 are the oxidant. Oxidation conditions relevant to high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (i.e., when oxidation could occur either as an acute or chronic phenomenon) are emphasized. The objective is to summarize graphite oxidation data in a practical and accessible way to inform future research and regulatory requirements.

Although each grade of nuclear graphite is different, the oxidation mechanism has underlying commonalities. Although oxidation behavior is grade dependent, the general temperature dependence is well described by a sequence of elementary steps which become rate limiting. Because the regime transition temperature depends on sample microstructure, size, and oxidant supply rate, extrapolating results beyond the experimental range should be done cautiously. Gravimetric oxidation rate measurements generally replicate well. However, caution must be exercised when rates are estimated by other methods or for samples that deviate significantly in size. Air oxidation data for IG-110, NBG-18, and PCEA graphite is critically reviewed to emphasize this point.

Despite the amount of experimental data, gaps remain. Sample size and shape effects are not fully explained. Data on the oxidant penetration depth are insufficient. Analytical assessments demonstrate that lower temperature oxidation does not necessarily imply that oxidation is uniform throughout the bulk. Oxidation occurs faster at higher temperature but is more localized to the exposed surface. Paradoxically, at equal mass loss percentage, low temperature oxidation leads to greater property degradation than at high temperature.

The isolated effect of oxidation is important; however, a gap remains in the systematic understanding of any potential effect of neutron irradiation on graphite structure and reactivity.