Assessment of mechanical properties in unirradiated and irradiated zircaloys and steels with non-standard tests and finite element calculations

Nuclear materials have been successfully employed in commercial fission reactors for many decades. Research and material development for advanced fission system and future thermo-nuclear fusion reactors have acquired maturity while great challenges remain to be taken up. The goal of the material scientist is to understand the way neutron irradiation and aggressive reactor environment alter the original material properties and to safely manage the operation conditions for each particular reactor component. In the framework of surveillance programme, the need has arisen to design experimental methods to be used with a limited amount of material for Post Irradiation Examination (PIE) of reactor components to test the integrity of those on a regular time basis. Having to deal with radioactive material, it is particularly important to devise experimental testing procedures as simple as possible but from which reliable information can be drawn. Within materials development programme, irradiations have continuously been performed either in reactors or with particle accelerators. In both cases, the irradiation volumes are usually limited. The concern was to optimize the volume of the irradiated samples in order to increase their number to obtain a good statistical representation of their mechanical behavior after irradiation, and to have a very definite and homogeneous damage dose and irradiation temperature. The concerns explained above originated the development of small-scale specimen testing methods. Advantage is taken of the fact that, within size and geometry limitations, some mechanical properties of a sample are independent of its absolute size. In this way it is possible to perform mechanical tests on samples of reduced volume that represents big advantages to face the aforementioned challenges. Non-standard test on very small specimen have also been proposed to extract mechanical properties of the bulk. If these non-standard testing methods are to be employed for PIE, it becomes necessary to develop modeling tool to understand under what circumstances they can provide useful information and specially how to obtain it. Finite element modeling (FEM) of the non-standard tests has played a key role in this sense, providing a link between standard test analysis and that of the non-standard ones. The goal of this work was to implement finite element models for non-standard tests to ultimately study the mechanical properties of Zircaloy cladding tube and tempered martensitic steels in the unirradiated and irradiated condition. One model was developed for ring tensile tests. It was first validated with a quite ductile iron-chromium ferritic alloy, for which ring and uniaxial tensile test were performed at room temperature. Using the constitutive behavior determined from the uniaxial tensile tests, the load – displacement curves of the ring tensile tests were very well reproduced. Another model was developed for the so-called small ball punch test, which consists in deforming a 3 mm diameter disk clamped between two dies with a ball puncher and to record the load – displacement curve. In order to validate the model, a series of ball punch tests and of tensile tests were carried out on the austenitic steel 316L at room temperature. In this last case, the ball punch test curves were also well reconstructed with the model. Based upon a simple analysis and simulation results, we showed that it is possible to obtain, by ring tensile tests, a quick and accurate assessment of the constitutive behavior of an unknown material, simply by processing the experimental force-elongation data in the same way as for uniaxial tests, taking half the ring perimeter as initial length and twice the ring cross section as the sample cross section. The ring tensile test method was used to determine the hoop mechanical properties of Zircaloy tubes used in fission reactors. Tensile tests were also performed in the axial direction of the Zircaloy tubes. Differences between the yield stress as well as the post-yield behaviors in the axial direction and those in the circumferential direction of the tube could be measured reflecting some component of the anisotropy of the tube. Ball punch specimens were cut also out of the tube in the radial direction and tested. Using the FE model for punch test, in which the anisotropy of the mechanical properties are taken into account through the Hill's theory, the values of the Hill's yield function parameters were estimated. The irradiation hardening of neutron irradiated Zircaloy tube was finally determined. The ball punch test model was extensively used for numerical investigations, to determine how the constitutive behavior of the materials (uniaxial true stress – true strain) employed as input acts in combination with other experimental factors (specimen thickness, friction coefficient) in mediating the shape of the experimental curves. In the light of the results, we derived calibrations between parameters of the non-standard and standard tests. For instance we proposed a new approach to determine the yield stress from the ball punch test. We also showed how the slope of the punch tests scales with the average flow stress of the material. The calibrations proposed in the past by authors and published in the open literature have been revisited and critically reviewed. Based upon the findings of the numerical studies, we propose a given methodology to unambiguously evaluate the material constitutive behavior of a material in a case where the only available data comes from various non-standard tests. Experimental ball punch test results obtained on proton-irradiated specimen (0.5 dpa and Tirr = 523 K), of the tempered martensitic steel, EUROFER97, have been obtained. The irradiation hardening was found equal to about 150 MPa, consistently with previous data on similar steels and irradiation conditions. From the simulations of the ball punch test curves of the irradiated specimens, it was concluded that the irradiation does not affect the strain hardening at relatively low fluence.

    Thèse École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL, n° 3304 (2005)
    Section de physique
    Faculté des sciences de base
    CRPP Association Euratom
    Jury: Friedrich Groeschel, Georges Meylan, Andreas Mortensen, Minh Quang Tran, Maximo Pedro Victoria

    Public defense: 2005-8-12


    Record created on 2005-07-12, modified on 2016-08-08


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