Methods for Investigating Gas Bubble Formation in Uranium-Zirconium Alloys



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Uranium-zirconium alloy nuclear fuels have many advantages as compared with ceramic fuels, especially for fast reactor systems. However, metallic fuels aren?t currently used in commercial power production due in part to issues with fuel swelling during irradiation. A major contributor to this expansion issue, the formation of fission gasses into bubbles, is examined here.

Methods to evaluate evolution of fission gas bubbles within a U-Zr alloy are discussed and refined. Specifically, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) for viewing bubbles within the interior of the alloy is investigated.

One constraint on the use of the TEM is the lack of literature pertaining to what thinning techniques are successful for U-10Zr alloy. Both initial and final thinning techniques were investigated. After thinning was complete, the specimens were viewed via TEM to determine their suitability. In addition, samples of U-Zr alloy were irradiated with gas atoms in an accelerator to simulate bubble initiation and formation and viewed via TEM. Only preliminary investigations were completed.

Evaluated electrolyte solutions included one part phosphoric acid to two parts sulfuric acid and two parts water (A), one part phosphoric acid to one part ethanol and one part glycerol (B), one part hydrochloric acid to one part water (C), two parts methanol to 13 parts phosphoric acid (D), and one part perchloric acid to nine parts acetic acid (G). Positive responses were received from the solutions A, C, and G which generated electron transparent areas with few to no process induced artifacts.

TEM trials with each electrolyte were performed on un-irradiated U-10Zr alloy. These trials indicated that the polishing methods would work but are not yet optimal. In addition, U-10Zr alloy was irradiated and viewed in the TEM where those polished with electrolyte A consistently included the presence of large circular features that could indicate bubbles or voids.

The foundation was laid for further study to be done on this topic through the use of electropolishing solutions as final thinning techniques. Additional work that is recommended includes: electropolishing parameter refinement; implantation of heavier gas atoms or at elevated temperatures; annealing of the implanted alloy; and computer modeling of resulting first principles phenomena.