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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N004493/2
Title: An innovative, multi-scale, real-time approach to the understanding of deformation and fracture in irradiated nuclear reactor core graphites
Principal Investigator: Liu, Dr D D
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Delft University of Technology EDF Energy EURATOM/CCFE
FESI (Forum for Eng Stuctural Integrity) National Physical Laboratory Regents of the Uni California Berkeley
University of Oxford
Department: Physics
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 July 2018 Ends: 31 January 2019 Value (£): 61,995
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy - Nuclear
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Graphite is one of the most fascinating materials used in the current UK reactors and is a candidate for the new generation of high temperature reactors (Gen IV) designed to operate for 60 to 100 years. Graphite has complex microstructure and behaviour under irradiation; it is a non-replaceable reactor core component in Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) and, hence, is life-limiting. This material has attracted extensive academic and industrial scrutiny to assist in underwriting the safe operation of nuclear fission reactors. Currently, the UK has 16 reactors generating about 20% of its electricity and all but one of these is scheduled to retire by 2023. However, life extension averaging 7 years for AGR units has been planned. There is 8 years before the earliest "end-of-life" scenarios for these AGRs is reached and this has set the horizon for this work programme on graphites. Lifetime extension of the AGRs is of strategic importance, not only for EDF Energy and its commercial interests but also for the UK's ability to meet electricity demand before the new generation of reactors are able to come online.

Further understanding of the graphite structure in the moderator components of AGRs continues to ensure their safety. Key challenges remain, and have to be addressed in terms of improving the fundamental mechanistic understanding of nuclear graphite. Although research in these areas is difficult and challenging, the present project proposal builds on the PI's expertise in this topic area, combined with the use of emerging novel techniques, to attack this critical problem.

1. Multi-scale characterisation of nuclear graphite

To generate microstructure-based descriptions at appropriate length-scales - with quantification of damage evolution - of the salient deformation, fracture mechanisms and general mechanical properties of irradiated nuclear reactor core graphites, a novel approach to investigate local damage has been developed by the PI at the University of Bristol. This approach, and combining the outcomes with computer modelling, has the advantage of establishing a solid fundamental base for structural integrity analysis and lifetime prediction of nuclear graphite.

2. Microstructure-based deformation and fracture of nuclear graphite at temperature

To provide three-dimensional, in situ, at-temperature (over 1000 deg. C for Gen IV reactors) characterisation of the deformation and fracture of graphites using computed synchrotron X-ray micro-tomography. No such tests have been undertaken on nuclear graphite. This objective will take into account the microstructural gradient created in AGR reactors in the UK and, hence, provide direct impact on life extension decision making. Part of this work will be undertaken with Prof. Robert Ritchie at the University of California, Berkeley, U.S.

3. Microstructure-based thermal creep in nuclear graphite under stress

To provide mechanistic understanding of the dimensional change of graphite over service life, i.e. to evaluate the thermal contribution to creep of virgin and irradiation graphite under load from ambient to reactor temperature (over 1000 deg. C for Gen IV reactors). Prof. Bryan Roebuck, of the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, will provide access to equipment that allows the realisation of these investigations.

4. Optimisation of project output

Inputs from the above three aspects will assist in generating a revised life evaluation methodology. On completion of the project with the above three key areas addressed, mechanistic understanding of the graphite, and the class of materials it represents, will directly benefit the related academic community. Dissemination of the results at the end of the project in the form of workshops will feed the input to industry and, thus, allow direct impact on the decision making for the continued safe operation of current reactors in the UK and validation for future reactors globally.
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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk