Investigating the Effects of Stress on the Microstructure of Nuclear Grade Graphite

  • Joshua Taylor

Student thesis: Phd


Graphite is used as a moderating material and as a structural component in a number of current generation nuclear reactors. During reactor operation stresses develop in the graphite components, causing them to deform. If significant numbers of graphite components were to fail in this manner, the material's effectiveness as a neutron moderator will be reduced, and the reactor's safe operation may be compromised. It is therefore important to understand how the microstructure of graphite affects the material's response to these stresses.Despite much research into the effects of stress on nuclear grade graphite, there remain gaps in our understanding of this process, and there are a number of frequently observed limitations in the current research. Many existing studies either focus on the bulk material, ignoring the important changes at the microlevel; or focus on residual stresses due to the lack of available in-situ data.An experimental programme was designed to study stress-induced changes to the microstructures of Gilsocarbon and Pile Grade A graphite used in UK nuclear reactors. Particular focus was paid to the deformation of the pore structure, since graphite is highly porous and the porosity has a significant effect on the strength and structural integrity of the graphite components. A compression rig was used to simulate the build-up of operational stresses, during which confocal laser microscopy and X-ray tomography were performed to quantify changes to the pore structure at the microlevel; while X-ray diffraction was performed to study deformation of the crystal lattice and quantify the build-up of lattice strains. Pore properties of interest included pore area, surface area, volume, eccentricity, orientation, angularity and separation. Crystal lattice properties of interest included layer spacing, unit cell and crystallite size parameters, lattice strains and Bacon Anisotropy Factor.The experimental and analytical techniques were designed to significantly enhance our current understanding of how graphite responds to stress, with each observation made using a novel technique or improving the effectiveness of existing techniques. These studies have enabled significant novel observations and discussions of the stress-induced deformation behaviour of nuclear grade graphite to be made.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPaul Mummery (Supervisor) & Graham Hall (Supervisor)


  • Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor
  • Energy
  • Nuclear
  • Magnox
  • X-ray Diffraction
  • Stress
  • Microscopy
  • Pile Grade A
  • Gilsocarbon
  • Graphite
  • Tomography

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