The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has embarked on a five-year partnership with the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). This £3m ($3.6m) arrangement seeks to better understand the performance and behaviour of materials required for use in future commercial fusion power plants.
It will involve irradiating materials using neutrons at the ORNL High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science user facility. These materials will be tested at ORNL and at UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility at Culham Campus in Oxfordshire. The research conducted will attempt to understand how certain materials respond to irradiation over extended periods, in order to increase the longevity of materials in fusion plants.
“The partnership will allow UKAEA access to ORNL’s archive of existing irradiated materials, which include binary iron-chromium alloys, advanced steels, silicon carbide composites and copper alloys,” said Dr Amanda Quadling, UKAEA’s Director of Materials Research. “Alongside this, UKAEA will also be placing entirely new materials into the ORNL High Flux Isotope Reactor, including new high-temperature steels developed by both UKAEA and wider UK industry, permeation barrier coatings and welded materials.”
ORNL’s Interim Director of Materials Science & Technology Division and Manager of Fusion Materials Programme Dr Yutai Kato, said the materials researched under the partnership “will primarily focus on the ‘breeder blanket’ – a component to provide the fusion fuel, tritium, to make powerplants self-sufficient”. Post irradiation testing will include tensile and hardness property measurements, to understand both the effect and extent of radiation-induced hardening and concurrent loss of ductility in these materials.
Advanced microstructural analysis will also be carried out to understand effects of neutron radiation on chemical segregation and precipitate stability. These assessments are critical to provide assurance that these alloys will be sufficiently durable and reliable to support a fusion powerplant throughout the expected lifetime of each component.
In 2021, UKAEA launched the UK Fusion Materials Roadmap with a view to deliver new neutron resilient materials as well as a suite of irradiation and post-irradiation test work to provide design engineers with data to build future fusion powerplants. The partnership will also see staff from the USA and UK visit their counterpart facilities via secondments to share industry skills.
Image: Representatives of the new partnership (L-R) Kathy McCarthy, Jeremy Busby, Mickey Wade, UKAEA CEO Ian Chapman, Cynthia Jenks & Yutai Kato (courtesy of ORNL)