Operators of commercial nuclear power plants throughout the world share a common concern—ensuring the continued performance of the reactor's core components.
In a project with the Electric Power Research Institute (now officially known as EPRI), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is taking a closer look at what causes corrosion or cracking in reactor core components. With collaborative funding from more than seven countries and a dozen agencies, researchers are studying core component materials to build an understanding of the radiation-induced material changes that promote environmental cracking.
"For the first time, we are examining material characteristics and stress corrosion cracks at near-atomic resolution on actual components removed from commercial power reactors," said Steve Bruemmer, who manages several projects at the Laboratory that are part of the larger international program.
Bruemmer explained that a joint project with the Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences is instrumental in the international research. "We're applying knowledge and unique characterization techniques developed through DOE programs to work with international partners on a problem that plagues the industry worldwide."
Nearly 100 existing light-water reactors produce a significant portion of the electricity in the United States, so this research is increasingly important as the nation's demand for electrical power continues to rise.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.