Components of commercial nuclear reactors are subjected to neutron bombardments that can modify their mechanical properties. Prediction of in-service and post-service behaviors generally requires irradiation in so-called “test reactors” as well as subsequent mechanical testing in specialized hot cell facilities. However, the use of these research facilities is becoming more problematic, in particular due to increasing costs and decreasing availability. One way of partially mitigating these problems is to complement the empirical approach by developing tools for numerical simulation of irradiation effects in materials. The development of such tools is clearly an ambitious task that will require a long-term international collaborative effort.
In this paper, we present an outline of the Reactor for Virtual Experiments (REVE) project, a collaborative European and American effort aimed at developing quantitative simulations of irradiation effects in materials. The first demonstration phase of REVE will target embrittlement of reactor pressure vessel (RPV) steels, since the effects and mechanisms of irradiation damage in this material are relatively well understood and many modeling tools have been developed or are under development in this field. As for any experiment, the input variables of the REVE simulation will be the neutron spectrum, time and temperature of irradiation, the alloy composition (e.g., Cu, Ni, Mn, and C contents) and microstructure and the unirradiated mechanical properties. The simulations will predict the irradiation-induced increases of yield stress and Charpy transition temperature as well as the decrease of toughness due to the concomitant evolution of the microstructure.