Variations in the thermal heat treatments used during the fabrication of ZIRLO (Zr-1Nb-1Sn-0.1Fe) fuel clad tubing and in ZIRLO alloy chemistry were explored to develop a further understanding of the relationship between processing, microstructure, and cladding corrosion performance. Heat treatment variables included intermediate tube annealing temperatures as well as a beta-phase heat treatment during the latter stages of the tube reduction schedule. Chemistry variables included deviations in niobium and tin content from the nominal composition. The effects of both heat treatment and chemistry on corrosion behavior were assessed by autoclave tests in both pure and lithiated water and high-temperature steam. Analytical electron microscopy demonstrated that the best out-reactor corrosion performance is obtained for microstructures containing a fine distribution of beta-niobium and Zr-Nb-Fe particles. Deviations from this microstructure, such as the presence of beta-zirconium phase, tend to degrade corrosion resistance.
ZIRLO fuel cladding was irradiated in four commercial reactors. In all cases, the microstructure in the cladding included beta-niobium and Zr-Nb-Fe particles. ZIRLO fuel cladding processed with a late-stage beta heat treatment to further refine the second-phase particle size exhibited inreactor corrosion behavior that was similar to reference ZIRLO cladding. Variations of the inreactor corrosion behavior of ZIRLO were correlated to tin content, with higher oxide thickness observed in the ZIRLO cladding containing higher tin. The results of these studies indicate that optimum corrosion performance of ZIRLO is achieved by maintaining a uniform distribution of fine second-phase particles and controlled levels of tin.