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About CaFFE

1.       Introduction

(a)  Original project summary (from EPSRC proposal)

This project will bring together eight investigators from world leading research and nuclear research universities together with three post-doctoral fellows and three PhD students to investigate zirconium carbide ceramic materials for their potential application in advanced nuclear reactor systems. these materials will be required to operate at high temperatures and suffer large numbers of atomic displacements due to radiation damage and yet will be required to resist corrosion and provide longer lifetimes than current materials. Following recommendations from international reports on the development of new materials for advanced fission reactors, the most modern techniques in materials modelling, and characterisation and testing will be brought to bear on these new materials. Phase diagrams will be calculated for new proposed layered zirconium carbide ceramics to guide the preparation of new phases. these new phases and a few already known phases will be characterised on multiple scales with 13C nuclear magnetic resonance, transmission electron microscopy and synchrotron diffraction and lab-based x-ray tomography both before and after their irradiation and corrosion testing at the National Nuclear Users Facility/Dalton Cumbria Facility. The researchers will collaborate with leading players in the nuclear materials industry to evaluate the neutronics and manufacturability of these new materials to assess their potential to be carried forward to later stages of development. An international meeting will be hosted at the end of the programme to highlight progress made in the development of these materials to both to the wider industry and to international academic groups to increase the profile of the UK nuclear materials community in Generation IV and Generation III+ nuclear research.

(b)     Original objectives (from EPSRC proposal)    

Considerable progress has been made since the discovery of layered carbide MAX phase materials in the 1990s in producing them with a range of different chemical elements and with attractive electrical and thermal properties and high melting points and fracture toughness. The primary objective of this research programme is to investigate the suitability of this new class of carbide materials for operation under the conditions encountered in advanced nuclear reactor systems. Nuclear applications require materials made from particular elements that interact weakly with the neutrons in the reactor thus providing neutron economy within the reactor (to allow fission to take place as efficiently as possible). Zirconium is a very favourable element in this application and the aim here is to demonstrate that layered zirconium carbide materials can be produced reproducibly (and economically) and ideally this would mean with sufficient toughness to be machined. They also need to be sufficiently robust to withstand large amounts of radiation damage, such that each atom in the material maybe displaced several hundred times during the component lifetime and to withstand the enhanced corrosion that accompanies defect production due to radiation damage in the material and the effect of radiolysis on the superheated water in the reactor.


2.         Detailed Objectives

To produce zirconium carbide that has been radiation damaged to understand the fundamental response of the material to different doses of radiation and to follow this as a function of the carbon content of the material. To apply an advanced experimental and modelling approach to nuclear materials to propose candidate layered zirconium carbide phases with the desired materials properties for fabrication. To carry out thermal analysis and mechanical property tests as well as irradiation, and corrosion tests on these candidate phases that simulate both operational conditions in a light water reactor, accident and excursion situations in Generation III+ reactors and high temperature gas reactors. To work closely with the nuclear industry and to utilise recent Government investments in national nuclear experimental facilities (NNUF) and nuclear training (Centres for Doctoral Training) to take these materials to higher levels of technical readiness where their development to deployment can be achieved.