The embrittlement of nuclear reactor pressure vessels caused by neutron radiation is the chief aging mechanism of these critical components. It is so critical to safe operation of reactors that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, have spent millions of dollars over the past three decades to document the effects. Furthermore, USNRC regulations and associated regulatory documents derived from that research basis now provide guidance on establishing operational conditions to assure that the pressure vessels of U.S. reactors will behave in a ductile manner, and that vessel materials will exhibit a sufficiently high resistance to ductile fracture.
The regulations and regulatory guidance that pertain to assuring the integrity of U.S. reactor pressure vessels are described and related to the operational constraints. Areas where additional data are needed, and where the analyses may be improved are noted and described. Finally, a prognosis is offered for future improvements in the technical basis for U.S. regulations.
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