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Microstructural evolution in Zircaloy-2 and -4 spent-fuel cladding specimens after three years of irradiation in commercial power reactors has been investigated by transmission and high-voltage electron microscopies. Two kinds of precipitates induced by the fastneutron irradiation in the reactors have been identified, that is, Zr3O and cubic-ZrO2 particles approximately 2 to 10 nm in size. By means of specimen tilting and dark-field stereomicroscopy, the bulk nature of the cubic-ZrO2 particles has been shown. The Zr(Fex,Cr1−x)2 and Zr2(Fex,Ni1−x) intermetallic precipitates normally present in the as-fabricated material virtually dissolved in the spent-fuel cladding specimens after a fast-neutron fluence of ∼4 × 1021 n/cm2 in the power reactors. The observed radiation-induced phase transformations are discussed in relation with the currently available understanding of the alloy characteristics.
Zircaloys, irradiation, precipitates, stereomicroscopy, brittle failure
Metallurgist, Argonne National Laboratory, Material Science and Technology Division, Argonne, IL