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Ultrasonic methods used in the study of radiation damage and recovery in single crystals appear to also be useful for similar studies on polycrystalline alloys. Ultrasonic methods have demonstrated a sensitivity to radiation damage as affected by neutron fluence, irradiation temperature, large changes in composition, and possibly, as well, by neutron energy spectrum. On the microstructure defect evolution, only the residual defects created through the radiation event will contribute to the final macroscopic material property change. From a microstructure point, it is generally accepted that radiation hardening and embrittlement in metals are caused by clusters of vacancies, interstitial, and solute atoms that impede the motion of slip dislocations. Although vacancy-type defects are a major contributor to the material hardening, they also indicate the presence of other interstitial defects. Thus the total volume change of vacancy-type defects before and after irradiation can serve as a direct index to the final material property changes. The volume change of the vacancy-type defects can be determined by utilizing the two-phase composite model (matrix and void-type inclusion) to interpret wave velocities of baseline and irradiated specimens that are obtained from the ultrasonic wave experiment. This is a relatively economic and straightforward procedure. The correlation of the volume change of the vacancy-type defects with the existing destructive mechanical test results may play an important role in the future for the prediction of the radiation embrittlement and remaining plant life, especially for the older plants on the verge of exhausting all the available mechanical test specimens loaded in the surveillance capsules. The above hypothesis was supported by the limited irradiated data analyzed and presented in this paper. The proposed ultrasonic methodology also has a potential application to assess creep damage in fossil power plants.
radiation embrittlement, ultrasonic, nondestructive, vacancy cluster, two-phase composite, power reactor, pressure vessel steels
Research Staff Member, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee