Extending the lifetime of existing nuclear power reactors is an increasingly important topic. As the existing fleet of nuclear power reactors ages and approaches the end of their design lifetimes or enters periods of lifetime extension, there is an increased probability for defect repairs due to extended exposure to the operating environment (e.g. high temperature, high pressure, corrosion environment, neutron irradiation, etc.). Concerning repair welding, should a critical need for repair arise, qualified and validated solutions must be readily available for rapid deployment. A proposed method using robotized gas metal arc welding-cold metal transfer to repair a “worst-case” scenario, linear crack like defect beneath the cladding, which extended into the reactor pressure vessel steel, was evaluated on laboratory scale in previous works (PVP2020-21233, PVP2020-21236). These previous studies demonstrated that cold metal transfer has the potential to produce high quality welds in the case of a reactor pressure repair.

In the current study, the lessons learned from the previous work were applied to repair a postulated surface crack on a thermally embrittled and cladded low alloy steel plate using a nickel base Alloy 52 filler metal. Two excavations were filled using different weld bead arrangements — a traditional pattern (92 weld beads, Q = 0.6 kJ/min) and a 45°-hatch pattern (184 weld beads, Q = 0.9 kJ/min) — by gas metal arc welding-cold metal transfer. No pre-heating or post-weld heat treatment were applied, to remain in line with what can be expected in a real pressure vessel repair situation. The 0° angle pattern acts as a reference for previous studies, while the 45°-hatch pattern, aims to minimize the residual stresses caused by repair welding. Finite element modeling was used to predict the initial (cladded, embrittled and excavated) condition of the steel plate, followed by simulating the welding using the actual welding conditions and material constants for both bead patterns as input parameters. The resulting deformation, strains and stresses created in the material due to repair welding were predicted and the welding’s effectiveness was estimated. In addition, the post-repair weld mechanical properties and microstructure, specifically focusing on the fusion boundary and heat-affected zone, were evaluated using various microscopy techniques and hardness measurements. The outcomes of the performed simulations, corresponding characterizations and lessons learned are presented in this study.

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