U.K. and U.S. national laboratories fuse interests in plasma partnership

March 21, 2023, 3:08PMNuclear News
The UKAEA will provide novel fusion materials to be irradiated in ORNL’s HFIR facility over the next four years. Pictured (from left) are Kathy McCarthy, director of the U.S. ITER Project; Jeremy Busby, ORNL’s associate lab director for fusion and fission energy and science; Mickey Wade, ONRL Fusion Energy Division director; Ian Chapman, chief executive officer of the UKAEA; Cynthia Jenks, ORNL’s associate lab director for physical sciences; and Yutai Kato, ORNL Materials Science and Technology Division interim director.

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) have formed a strategic research partnership to investigate how different types of materials behave under the influence of high-energy neutron sources. The five-year partnership was announced by ORNL and by the UKAEA on March 13.

According to ORNL, the $4 million project is part of UKAEA's Fusion Materials Roadmap initiative, launched in 2021. The goal: to find materials that can withstand the extreme conditions of a fusion power system, including bombardment by very high-energy neutrons and close proximity to fusion plasma at temperatures of up to 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the center of the sun.

The plan: Over the next four years, the UKAEA will send novel material samples to the United States for irradiation in ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR). Scientists from ORNL's Fusion Energy Division and Materials Science and Technology Division, along with researchers from the UKAEA’s Materials Division, will then conduct postirradiation examination of the samples, both at ORNL and at the UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility at the Culham Campus in Oxfordshire, U.K.

According to the UKAEA, the materials researched under the partnership will primarily focus on the “breeder blanket” in which tritium fuel is produced to make a fusion power plant self-sufficient. Postirradiation testing will include tensile and hardness property measurements to understand radiation-induced hardening and loss of ductility in the materials, and microstructural analysis will be performed to understand the effects of neutron radiation on chemical segregation and precipitate stability.

They said it: “This research collaboration will be a critical piece of the economics of a fusion device in the future, establishing which materials can last for long periods in the fusion environment,” said Mickey Wade, ORNL’s Fusion Energy Division director. “This is a great opportunity for ORNL and UKAEA to partner on a key area for fusion.”

“The partnership will allow UKAEA access to ORNL’s archive of existing irradiated materials, which include binary iron-chromium alloys, advanced steels, silicon carbide composites and copper alloys,” said Amanda Quadling, director of the UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility. “Alongside this, UKAEA will also be placing entirely new materials into the ORNL High Flux Isotope Reactor, including new high-temperature steels developed by both UKAEA and wider UK industry, permeation barrier coatings, and welded materials.”

“With the combined expertise of UKAEA and ORNL, this partnership has the potential to yield important insights into how materials behave under high-energy neutron sources, and how they can be used to support the development of fusion power plants,” added Yutai Kato, interim director of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

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