Volume 7, Issue 8 (September 2010)
The Development of Zr-2.5Nb Pressure Tubes for CANDU Reactors
The first reactor to use zirconium alloy tubes to contain hot pressurized water as a heat transport medium was the Hanford N reactor in 1962. For this reactor, three companies that had suitable extrusion and cold working equipment were given contracts to produce Zircaloy-2 tubes. All the companies were successful, and tubes from each company were installed in the reactor. When Canada decided to design and build a power reactor (nuclear power demonstration (NPD)), it elected to use the pressure tube concept and gave a contract to one of the companies (Chase Brass) to fabricate the Zircaloy-2 tubes. Douglas Point and Pickering Units 1 and 2 followed NPD, and all used similar Zircaloy-2 pressure tubes. A stronger tube was desired in order to thin the wall and improve the neutron economy. An alloy development program in the USSR had shown that the alloy Zr-2.5Nb looked very promising as a stronger alloy than Zircaloy-2, and both the USSR and Canada developed this alloy and subsequently used Zr-2.5Nb pressure tubes in their reactors. When both the Zircaloy-2 and Zr-2.5Nb pressure tubes were first installed in the reactors, several important properties and characteristics such as hydrogen ingress into the metal from corrosion in water, the enhancement of creep by neutron irradiation, shape change by neutron irradiation, reduction in fracture toughness by neutron irradiation, and delayed hydride cracking were not appreciated. These properties all led to problems during the service lives of the early tubes. Large research programs investigated these properties and showed that the α-grain size, shape, and crystallographic texture, the distribution of the β-phase, the dislocation type, and density as well as the micro-chemistry controlled the in-reactor properties of the tubes. This information enabled the design and operation of the reactors to be changed so that the tubes had satisfactory service lives. In addition, the information was used to fabricate tubes that had much improved properties and service lives.