Mechanistic Understanding of Alloy 600 Preferential Intergranular Oxidation: "Precursor Events of Stress Corrosion Cracking"

  • Giacomo Bertali

Student thesis: Phd


Primary Water Stress Corrosion Cracking (PWSCC) of Alloy 600 and similar Ni-Cr-Fe alloys is regarded as one of the most important challenges to nuclear power plant operation. During the past decades the majority of research has focused on PWSCC crack growth rate measurements in order to assess the lifetime of real components and to develop empirical models for crack propagation. However, the incubation and initiation stages of PWSCC have the same or even greater importance than the propagation stage, particularly because SCC can be undetected for more than 20 years before the occurrence of a rapid and catastrophic failure. There is, therefore, the scientific need to understand the mechanisms playing a fundamental role in the formation and development of intergranular cracks embryo, the so-called SCC initiation "precursor events", in order to be able to predict and mitigate the occurrence of PWSCC. Amongst all the models proposed for SCC initiation, the internal oxidation mechanism proposed by Scott and Le Calvar in 1992 appears to be the most comprehensive. Although the internal oxidation mechanism is widely accepted, it still requires further elucidation, especially in terms of enhanced grain boundary diffusivity and the role of intergranular carbides on the oxidation mechanism.The present work has focused on the initial stages of intergranular oxidation of solution-annealed (SA) and thermally-treated (TT) Alloy 600 with the aim of understanding the active mechanism responsible for the enhanced intergranular oxide penetration kinetics. The material was tested in simulated PWR primary water at 320°C, high-pressure hydrogenated-steam at 400°C and low-pressure H2-steam environment at 480°C at potential more reducing than the Ni/NiO equilibrium. The detailed microstructural characterization was conducted using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and analytical transmission electron microscopy (ATEM) and demonstrated that Alloy 600SA is susceptible to diffusion-induced grain boundary migration (DIGM), preferential intergranular oxidation (PIO) and localised Cr and Fe depletions at the grain boundaries. The similar analyses performed on Alloy 600TT demonstrated reduced susceptibility to PIO and grain boundary migration. Further, detailed analyses confirmed that intergranular carbides were readily oxidized/consumed in all 3 environments and acted as Cr reservoir/O trap. These results shed additional light on the "precursor events" for PWSCC of Alloy 600, especially on the mechanism responsible for the enhanced Cr and O diffusivity and on the mechanism responsible for the enhanced Alloy 600TT SCC initiation resistance. Moreover, the strong similarities in the Alloy 600 oxidation behaviour observed for the 3 different environments and at the 3 different temperatures suggested that the same PIO mechanism is active in both steam and water and at temperatures between 320°C and 480°C. These results strongly support the possibility of using the low-pressure H2-steam environment as a substitute environment to accelerate PWSCC initiation without changing the mechanism.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorGrace Burke (Supervisor) & Fabio Scenini (Supervisor)


  • Alloy 600
  • Preferential Integranular Oxidation
  • Diffusion Induced Grain Boundary Migration
  • Carbides Consumption
  • AEM
  • Stress Corrosion Cracking

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