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Effects of Tritium on Corrosion of Welded Type 316L Stainless Steel

G. Bellanger

Fusion Science and Technology / Volume 27 / Number 1 / Pages 46-58

January 1995


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An attempt was undertaken to investigate the localized corrosion susceptibility of tritiated oxidized weldments of Type 316L austenitic stainless steel made by the tungsten inert gas process. For this, the distribution of tritium at the surface was determined using a scintillation spectrophotometer. Depending on the values, the amounts of tritium are high enough to degrade the oxide. The polarization curves show a corrosion potential lower than that of a nontritiated weld. This means that tritiated welds have a less “noble” behavior. It is observed by voltammetry that the reduction of corrosion products always occurs during the cathodic scans, meaning less passivity for tritiated welds. Using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, the values of electron and ionic diffusion within the passive oxide were deduced. The tritiated oxide layer is thinner, and a higher concentration of electron carriers is observed; this indicates a less insulating oxide. The difference in electron carriers may come from ionization and breakdowns of the oxide layer by tritium and the energy released. The scanning electron microscopy (SEM) examinations show a complex microstructure of the tritiated surface that could be attributed both to the welding process and a severe degradation by tritium and energy released from the decay. It is well known that the ferrite is formed in the austenite during welding; this certainly leads to corrosion of ferrite/austenite surface borders. This corrosion may be facilitated by the presence of tritium trapped at these surface borders, and the microcracks would nucleate leading to no cohesion of austenite. This mechanism is difficult to verify by SEM for stainless steel highly degraded by tritium and the energy released, but the visual examinations would appear to well support the results obtained by electrochemical methods, where the oxide is damaged.

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