Nuclear reactor pressure vessels must be able to withstand thermal shock due to emergency cooling during a loss of coolant accident. Demonstrating structural integrity during thermal shock is difficult due to the complex interaction between thermal stress, residual stress, and stress caused by internal pressure. Finite element and analytic approaches exist to calculate the combined stress, but validation is limited. This study describes an experiment which aims to measure stress in a slice of clad reactor pressure vessel during thermal shock using time-resolved synchrotron X-ray diffraction.

A test rig was designed to subject specimens to thermal shock, whilst simultaneously enabling synchrotron X-ray diffraction measurements of strain. The specimens were extracted from a block of SA508 Grade 4N reactor pressure vessel steel clad with Alloy 82 nickel-base alloy. Surface cracks were machined in the cladding. Electric heaters heat the specimens to 350°C and then the surface of the cladding is quenched in a bath of cold water, representing thermal shock. Six specimens were subjected to thermal shock on beamline I12 at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron X-ray facility. Time-resolved strain was measured during thermal shock at a single point close to the crack tip at a sample rate of 30 Hz. Hence, stress intensity factor vs time was calculated assuming K-controlled near-tip stress fields. This work describes the experimental method and presents some key results from a preliminary analysis of the data.

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