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What are Radiation induced Crystallographic Defects – Definition

Heavier particles, such as protons, alpha-particles, fast neutrons, and fission fragments, will usually transfer sufficient energy through elastic or inelastic collisions to remove nuclei from their lattice (crystalline) positions.

Materials in nuclear service are subjected to various types of radiation. Some of these can cause significant damage to the crystalline structure of materials. Nuclear radiation focuses large amounts of energy into highly localized areas. Damage is caused by the interaction of this energy with the nuclei and/or orbiting electrons.

As was written, charged particles with high energies can directly ionize atoms or they can cause excitation of surrounding electrons. The ionization and excitation dissipates much of the energy of heavier charged particles and does very little damage. This is because electrons are relatively free to move and are soon replaced. The net effect of beta and gamma radiation on metal is to generate a small amount of heat. Heavier particles, such as protons, alpha-particles, fast neutrons, and fission fragments, will usually transfer sufficient energy through elastic or inelastic collisions to remove nuclei from their lattice (crystalline) positions. This addition of vacancies and interstitial atoms causes property changes in metals.

In general, the effects of greatest interest can be described by the following groupings:

  • Vacancies or Knock-ons. Vacancy defects result from a missing atom in a lattice position. The stability of the surrounding crystal structure guarantees that the neighboring atoms will not simply collapse around the vacancy. This can be caused by the direct interaction of a high energy neutron or a fission fragment. If a target or struck nucleus gains about 25 eV of kinetic energy (25 eV to 30 eV for most metals) in a collision with a radiation particle (usually a fast neutron), the nucleus will be displaced from its equilibrium position in the crystal lattice. During a lengthy irradiation (for large values of the neutron fluence), many of the displaced atoms will return to normal (stable) lattice sites (that is, partial annealing occurs spontaneously).
  • Interstitials. Interstitial defects result from an impurity located at an interstitial site or one of the lattice atoms being in an interstitial position instead of being at its lattice position. An interstitial is formed when an atom, which is knocked out from its position, comes to rest at some remote point.
  • Ionization. Ionization is caused by the removal of electrons from their electronic shells and has the effect of changing the chemical bonds of molecules. In metal, ionization does not cause dramatic changes in material’s properties. This is due to free electrons, which are typical only for metallic bond.
  • Thermal and Displacement Spikes. Thermal and displacement spikes can cause distortion that is frozen as stress in the microscopic area. These spikes can cause a change in the material’s properties. This term identifies localized high temperature domains caused by the deposition of energy from neutrons and fission fragments. A displacement spike occurs when many atoms in a small area are displaced by a knock-on (or cascade of knock-ons). A 1 MeV neutron may affect approximately 5000 atoms, making up one of these spikes. The presence of many displacement spikes changes the properties of the metal being irradiated, such as increasing hardness and decreasing ductility.
  • Impurity Atoms. The capture of neutrons and nuclear reactions induced by various radiations has the effect of transmuting an atom into an element which is foreign to the material.
  • Radiation Induced Creep. In nuclear reactors, many metal components are subjected simultaneously to radiation fields, elevated temperatures and stress. Metal under stress at elevated temperature exhibits the phenomenon of creep, ie. the gradual increase in strain with time. Creep of metal components at reactor operating temperatures becomes faster when they are exposed to a radiation field.

Neutrons with sufficient energy can disrupt the atomic arrangement or crystalline structure of materials. The influence of structural damage is most significant for metals because of their relative immunity to damage by ionizing radiation. Pressurized-water reactors operate with a higher rate of neutron impacts and their vessels therefore tend to experience a greater degree of embrittlement than boiling-water reactor vessels. Many pressurized-water reactors design their cores to reduce the number of neutrons hitting the vessel wall. This slows the vessel’s embrittlement. The NRC’s regulations address embrittlement in 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix G, “Fracture Toughness Requirements” and Appendix H, “Reactor Vessel Material Surveillance Program Requirements.” Since the reactor pressure vessel is considered irreplaceable, neutron irradiation embrittlement of pressure vessel steels is a key issue in the long term assessment of structural integrity for life attainment and extension programmes.

Radiation damage is produced when neutrons of sufficient energy displace atoms (especially in steels at operating temperatures 260 – 300°C) that result in displacement cascades which produce large numbers of defects, both vacancies and interstitials. Although the inside surface of the RPV is exposed to neutrons of varying energies, the higher energy neutrons, those above about 0.5 MeV, produce the bulk of the damage. In order to minimize such material degradation type and structure of the steel must be appropriately selected. Today it is known that the susceptibility of reactor pressure vessel steels is strongly affected (negatively) by the presence of copper, nickel and phosphorus.

ductile–brittle transition temperatureAs was written, the distinction between brittleness and ductility isn’t readily apparent, especially because both ductility and brittle behavior are dependent not only on the material in question but also on the temperature (ductile-brittle transition) of the material. The effect of temperature on the nature of the fracture is of considerable importance. Many steels exhibit ductile fracture at elevated temperatures and brittle fracture at low temperatures. The temperature above which a material is ductile and below which it is brittle is known as the ductile–brittle transition temperature (DBTT), nil ductility temperature (NDT), or nil ductility transition temperature. This temperature is not precise, but varies according to prior mechanical and heat treatment and the nature and amounts of impurity elements. It can be determined by some form of drop-weight test (for example, the Charpy or Izod tests).

To minimize neutron fluence:

  • Radial neutron reflectors are installed around the reactor core. Neutron reflectors reduce neutron leakage and therefore they reduce the neutron fluence on a reactor pressure vessel.
  • Core designers design the low leakage loading patterns, in which fresh fuel assemblies are not situated in the peripheral positions of the reactor core.

If the metal is heated to elevated temperatures after irradiation (a form of annealing), it is found that the strength and ductility return to the same values as before irradiation. This means that radiation damage can be annealed out of a  metal.

See also: Ductile-brittle Transition Temperature

See also: Irradiation Embrittlement

See also: Thermal Annealing


Materials Science:

  1. U.S. Department of Energy, Material Science. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  2. U.S. Department of Energy, Material Science. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 and 2. January 1993.
  3. William D. Callister, David G. Rethwisch. Materials Science and Engineering: An Introduction 9th Edition, Wiley; 9 edition (December 4, 2013), ISBN-13: 978-1118324578.
  4. Eberhart, Mark (2003). Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart. Harmony. ISBN 978-1-4000-4760-4.
  5. Gaskell, David R. (1995). Introduction to the Thermodynamics of Materials (4th ed.). Taylor and Francis Publishing. ISBN 978-1-56032-992-3.
  6. González-Viñas, W. & Mancini, H.L. (2004). An Introduction to Materials Science. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-07097-1.
  7. Ashby, Michael; Hugh Shercliff; David Cebon (2007). Materials: engineering, science, processing and design (1st ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-7506-8391-3.
  8. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.

See above:

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