Sensitivity of ultrasonic nonlinearity to irradiated, annealed, and re-irradiated microstructure changes in RPV steels
The planned life extension of nuclear reactors throughout the US and abroad will cause reactor vessel and internals materials to be exposed to more neutron irradiation than was originally intended. A nondestructive evaluation (NDE) method to monitor radiation damage would enable safe and cost-effective continued operation of nuclear reactors. Radiation damage in reactor pressure vessel (RPV) steels causes microstructural changes that leave the material in an embrittled state. Nonlinear ultrasound is an NDE technique quantified by the measurable acoustic nonlinearity parameter, which is sensitive to microstructural changes in metallic materials such as dislocations, precipitates and their combinations. Recent research has demonstrated the sensitivity of the acoustic nonlinearity parameter to increasing neutron fluence in representative RPV steels. The current work considers nonlinear ultrasonic experiments conducted on similar RPV steel samples that had a combination of irradiation, annealing, re-irradiation, and/or re-annealing to a total neutron fluence of 0.5-5 × 1019 n/cm2 (E > 1 MeV) at an irradiation temperature of 290 °C. The acoustic nonlinearity parameter generally increased with increasing neutron fluence, and consistently decreased from the irradiated to the annealed state over different levels of neutron fluence. Results of the measured acoustic nonlinearity parameter are compared with those from previous measurements on other RPV steel samples. This comprehensive set of results illustrates the dependence of the measured acoustic nonlinearity parameter on neutron fluence, material composition, irradiation temperature and annealing.