Mechanical Properties and Radiation Tolerance of Ultrafine Grained and Nanocrystalline Metals



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Austenitic stainless steels are commonly used in nuclear reactors and have been considered as potential structural materials in fusion reactors due to their excellent corrosion resistance, good creep and fatigue resistance at elevated temperatures, but their relatively low yield strength and poor radiation tolerance hinder their applications in high dose radiation environments. High angle grain boundaries have long been postulated as sinks for radiation-induced defects, such as bubbles, voids, and dislocation loops. Here we provide experimental evidence that high angle grain boundaries can effectively remove radiation-induced defects. The equal channel angular pressing (ECAP) technique was used to produce ultrafine grained Fe-Cr-Ni alloy. Mechanical properties of the alloy were studied at elevated temperature by tensile tests and in situ neutron scattering measurements. Enhanced dynamic recovery process at elevated temperature due to dislocation climb lowers the strain hardening rate and ductility of ultrafine grained Fe-Cr-Ni alloy. Thermal stability of the ultrafine grained Fe-Cr-Ni alloy was examined by ex situ annealing and in situ heating within a transmission electron microscope. Abnormal grain growth at 827 K (600?C) is attributed to deformation-induced martensite, located at the triple junctions of grains. Helium ion irradiation studies on Fe-Cr-Ni alloy show that the density of He bubbles, dislocation loops, as well as irradiation hardening are reduced by grain refinement. In addition, we provide direct evidence, via in situ Kr ion irradiation within a transmission electron microscope, that high angle grain boundaries in nanocrystalline Ni can effectively absorb irradiation-induced dislocation loops and segments. The density and size of dislocation loops in irradiated nanocrystalline Ni were merely half of those in irradiated coarse grained Ni. The results imply that irradiation tolerance in bulk metals can be effectively enhanced by microstructure refinement.