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Characteristics of Composite Silicon Carbide Fuel Cladding After Irradiation Under Simulated PWR Conditions

John D. Stempien, David M. Carpenter, Gordon Kohse, Mujid S. Kazimi

Nuclear Technology / Volume 183 / Number 1 / July 2013 / Pages 13-29

Technical Paper / Fuel Cycle and Management/Materials for Nuclear Systems / 10.13182/NT12-86

Silicon carbide possesses a high melting point, low chemical activity, no appreciable creep at high temperatures, and a low neutron absorption cross section, making it an attractive material to investigate for use as fuel cladding in light water reactors. The cladding design investigated herein consists of three layers: an inner monolith of SiC, a central composite layer of SiC fibers infiltrated with SiC, and an outer SiC coating to protect against corrosion. The inner monolith provides strength and hermeticity for the tube, and the composite layer adds strength to the monolith while providing a pseudo-ductile failure mode in the hoop direction. The tube may be sealed by bonding SiC end caps to the SiC tube. A number of samples were irradiated in a test loop simulating pressurized water reactor coolant and neutronic conditions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology research reactor. Postirradiation hoop stress testing via internal pressurization revealed 10% to 60% strength reduction due to physical properties mismatches between the three layers and corrosion. Weight loss measurements indicated that some irradiation-assisted corrosion occurred. Scanning electron microscope analysis allowed determination of the fracture mechanisms for specimens ruptured during hoop testing. The thermal diffusivities of the as-fabricated three-layer tube samples were measured to be roughly three times lower than those of the as-fabricated monolith layer. With irradiation, the thermal diffusivities decreased by factors of 14 and 8 for the monolith and three-layered samples, respectively. This change may be attributed to radiation damage and the formation of a silica layer on the sample surface. Anisotropic swelling of the bonded -SiC blocks was sufficient to fail five of the six bond test specimens after a 1.5-month irradiation. Two of each of the calcium aluminate and Ti foil bonded samples failed. One of two TiC/SiC bond samples survived.

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