Microstructure Changes during Fast Beta Cycles of Zirconium Alloys

  • Chi-Toan Nguyen

Student thesis: Phd


During loss-of-coolant accidents (LOCA) and reactivity-initiated accidents (RIA), nuclear fuel rods experience high heating rates that change the microstructure and properties of zirconium cladding materials, which are in forms of stress-relieved, like cold-worked (CW) or recrystallised (RX) microstructure. The present study aimed to determine how different fast heating rates and starting microstructures affect the kinetics of phase transformation, the transformation textures and eventually the mechanical response in the dual-phase region. The LOCA/RIA cycles from heating at 8 to 100C/s to alpha+beta or above beta transus temperature were achieved via resistive heating in an electro-thermal-mechanical tester. Synchrotron X-ray diffraction (SXRD) and electrical resistivity measurements showed that the approach curves of CW Zircaloy-4 shift to higher temperature at faster constant heating rates and change to a new approach curve when changing rates. 2-second holding at two-phase temperature produces identical phase fractions as equilibrium. These observations are consistent with the diffusional character of the phase trans- formation. Heated at 100oCs1, RX samples transform with 2D beta-growth while CW ones show simultaneous beta-nucleation and growth. The difference arises because the fast heating rate helps preserve low-angle grain boundaries (GB) in the CW microstructure up to phase transformation temperature, increasing beta nucleation sites and prevent beta-growth. This gives rise to different textures of RX and CW materials before transformation, producing different textures, which are weak in both cases. However, this difference is enhanced during grain growth and transformation on cooling. Thus, the RX material shows strong final alpha texture with 0002 maxima aligned in TD and tilted 20deg from ND towards TD while the CW reveals an essentially random one. In both RX and CW materials, variant selection does not occur during transformation on heating. During beta-grain growth, although there is variability in beta-textures measured by SXRD and EBSD beta reconstruction, it is clear that variant selection occurs, leading to strengthening of the beta texture. During transformation on cooling, variant selection occurs early in nucleation of the alpha phase from the shared 110 beta GB in the RX condition. The flow stresses of CW Zircaloy-4 in the two-phase regime at a given temperature depend on the heating rates, despite having the same phase fractions. Heated at a slower rate, the material shows an upper yield stress followed by softening behaviour while that heated faster has a smaller yield stress followed by a high work-hardening rate and then stable flowing stresses. The evolution of diffraction elastic strains and intensity suggest the upper yield stress and softening are due to stress-induced transformation of the harder alpha grains into large and isolated softer beta grains. In contrast, the sample heated faster develops an almost continuous film of beta grains along the GB of unrecrystallised alpha-grains which results in early beta-yielding and coherent deformation of the two phases, leading to constant flow stresses. The findings will improve the accuracy of inputs from phase fractions, microstructure and texture of zirconium claddings when modelling LOCA/RIA. A crystal plasticity model should consider the effects of heating rates and cold-work, which are often ignored. The link between deformation, fast heating rates and microstructure evolution might be relevant to other processes like additive layer manufacturing and even forging in the two-phase region.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJoao Quinta Da Fonseca (Supervisor) & Michael Preuss (Supervisor)


  • tensile yield stresses
  • synchrotron X-ray diffraction
  • variant selection
  • Zirconium alloys
  • phase transformation
  • Fast heating rates
  • Loss of coolant accidents
  • texture

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