X-ray diffraction (XRD) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) have been used to characterize microstructural and microchemical changes produced by neutron irradiation in zirconium and zirconium alloys. Zircaloy-2, Zircaloy-4, and Zr-2.5Nb alloys with differing metallurgical states have been analyzed after irradiation for neutron fluences up to 25 × 1025 n.m-2 (E > 1 MeV) for a range of temperatures between 330 and 580 K.
Irradiation modifies the dislocation structure through nucleation and growth of dislocation loops and, for cold-worked materials in particular, climb of existing network dislocations. In general, the a-type dislocation structure tends to saturate at low fluences (< 1 × 1025 n.m-2). The c-component dislocation structure, however, may evolve over long periods of irradiation (for fluences >10 × 1025 n.m-2 in some cases).
The phase structure is also modified by irradiation. The common alloying/impurity elements, Fe, Cr, and Ni, are relatively insoluble in the α-phase but are dispersed into the α-phase during irradiation irrespective of the state of the phase initially containing these elements, i.e., metastable β-phase or stable intermetallic precipitate. The stable intermetallic particles may undergo structural changes dependent on their composition and the temperature. For the metastable dual-phase α/β-alloys (Zr-2.5Nb alloy), the β-phase structure is modified during irradiation, but the change is complex, being a combination of thermal decomposition and radiation-induced mixing.