The desire to use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) piping in buried Class 3 service and cooling water systems in nuclear power plants is primarily motivated by the material’s high resistance to corrosion relative to that of steel alloys. The rules for construction of Class 3 HDPE pressure piping systems were originally published as an alternative to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code (ASME BPVC) in ASME Code Case N-755 and were recently incorporated into the ASME BPVC Section III as Mandatory Appendix XXVI (2015 Edition). The requirements for HDPE examination are guided by criteria developed for metal pipe and are based on industry-led HDPE research and conservative calculations.

Before HDPE piping will be generically approved for use in U.S. nuclear power plants, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must have independent verification of industry-led research used to develop ASME BPVC rules for HDPE piping. With regard to examination, the reliability of volumetric inspection techniques in detecting fusion joint fabrication flaws against Code requirements needs to be confirmed. As such, confirmatory research was performed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) from 2012 to 2015 to assess the ability of phased-array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) as a nondestructive evaluation (NDE) technique to detect planar flaws, represented by implanted stainless steel discs, within HDPE thermal butt-fusion joints. All HDPE material used in this study was commercially dedicated, 305 mm (12.0 in.) nominal diameter, dimension ratio (DR) 11, PE4710 pipe manufactured with Code-conforming resins, and fused by a qualified and experienced operator. Thermal butt-fusion joints were fabricated in accordance with or intentionally outside the standard fusing procedure specified in ASME BPVC. The implanted disc diameters ranged from 0.8–2.2 mm (0.03–0.09 in.) and the post-fabrication positions of the discs within the fusion joints were verified using normal- and angled-incidence X-ray radiography. Ultrasonic volumetric examinations were performed with the weld beads intact and the PA-UT probes operating in the standard transmit-receive longitudinal (TRL) configuration. The effects of probe aperture on the ability to detect the discs were evaluated using 128-, 64-, and 32-element PA-UT probe configurations. Results of the examinations for each of the three apertures used in this study will be discussed and compared based on disc detection using standard amplitude-based signal analysis that would typically be used with the ultrasonic volumetric examination methods found in ASME BPVC.

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