Graphite is used as a moderator and structural component in the United Kingdom’s fleet of Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs) and features in two Generation IV reactor concepts: the Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) and the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR). Under the temperature and neutron irradiation conditions of an AGR, nuclear-grade graphite demonstrates significant changes to it mechanical, thermal and electrical properties. These changes include considerable dimensional change with expansion in the c-direction and contraction in the a/b-directions. As the United Kingdom’s AGRs approach their scheduled decommissioning dates, it is essential that this behaviour be understood in order to determine under what reactor conditions their operating lifetimes can be safely extended.
Two models have been proposed for the dimensional change in graphite due to displacing radiation: the “Standard Model” and “Ruck and Tuck”. The Standard Model draws on a conventional model of Frenkel pair production, point defect migration and agglomeration but fails to explain several key experimental observations. The Ruck and Tuck model has been proposed by M.I. Heggie et al. and is based upon the movement of basal dislocation to create folds in the “graphene” sheets and seeks not only to account for the dimension change but also the other phenomena not explained by the Standard Model.
In order to test the validity of these models, work is underway to gather experimental evidence of the microstructural evolution of graphite under displacing radiation. One of the primary techniques for this is transmission electron microscopy with in situ ion irradiation. This paper presents the results of electron irradiation at a range of energies (performed in order to separate the effects of the electron and ion beams) and of combined electron and ion beam irradiation.