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Mapping the radiation tolerance and local mechanics of nuclear Reactor Pressure Vessel steels

  • Full or part time

    Prof G Burke
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, July 31, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The aim of the project is to evaluate the impact of the local microstructure on the radiation damage and mechanical performance of neutron-irradiated Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPV) steels at relevant reactor conditions and in the bulk microstructure, with sufficient spatial resolution and chemical sensitivity to identify local changes in chemistry, phases, microstructure and plasticity/hardening. These data will be used to validate multiscale modelling and cleavage fracture frameworks related to heterogeneous RPV steel structures.
There already exists a relatively vast amount on experimental data and modelling attempts to evaluate and predict the irradiation embrittlement of RPV steels under an array of temperatures, neutron fluxes and fluences, based on nuclear surveillance campaigns and the use of test reactors. However, there is still excessive scatter in microstructural data, already coming from chemical/structural heterogeneities in the (non-irradiated) base line material and also due to welding, and the link between irradiation effects and tensile/fracture behaviour is still not well established and accepted by the nuclear community. This is unfortunately affecting model reliability to inform safety cases for long-term operation of the current nuclear fleet. Neutron bombardment induces solute-enriched nano-clusters, dislocation loops and/or vacancy-type aggregates, together with a simultaneous increase in hardness of the material. Microstructural analysis of irradiated RPV steels is traditionally performed either with nanometre resolution on very small volumes of material, or on a micro/mesoscale (multiple grains and larger volumes) averaged over a large region of interest.
In this project, the student will have the unique opportunity to use high-energy synchrotron X-ray beams of (sub-)micron dimensions and high flux to assess the chemical, phase and defect heterogeneities in the pristine non-irradiated and irradiated material with sufficient spatial resolution probing a relatively large area of interest, and to monitor in-situ during mechanical deformation the plasticity and strain localization as a function of the local microstructure. This work will be supported by ex-situ analytical (S)TEM-based microstructural characterisation techniques, both imaging and microanalysis with unprecedented spatial resolution, to assess the structural defect and irradiation-induced solute cluster characteristics at selected locations in the heterogeneous material, and their impact on dislocation mobility during deformation. This work forms part of a European multi-partner project, where the student will be able to interact with other nuclear research centres in Europe and with representatives from nuclear industries such as EDF and Framatome.

Funding Notes

2:1 in Materials Science, Physics or Mechanical Engineering
2:2 will be considered if the candidate holds an MSc in a relevant research area
Previous knowledge in metallurgy, nuclear energy or solid mechanics would be an asset.
This project is being considered for DTA funding. This will provide a full fee waiver and a EPSRC standard stipend. Overseas applicants are welcome to apply, but will require access to self-funding.

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials?
Metallurgy and Materials

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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