INFLUENCE OF IRRADIATION AND LASER WELDING ON DEFORMATION MECHANISMS IN AUSTENITIC STAINLESS STEELS
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This dissertation describes the recent advancements in micromechanical testing that inform how deformation mechanisms in austenitic stainless steels (SS) are affected by the presence of irradiation-induced defects. Austenitic SS is one of the most widely utilized structural alloys in nuclear energy systems, but the role of irradiation on its underlying mechanisms of mechanical deformation remains poorly understood. Now, recent advancement of microscale mechanical testing in a scanning electron microscope (SEM), coupled with site-specific transmission electron microscopy (TEM), enables us to precisely determine deformation mechanisms as a function of plastic strain and grain orientation.
We focus on AISI 304L SSs irradiated in EBR-II to ~1-28 displacements per atom (dpa) at ~415 °C and contains ~0.2-8 atomic parts per million (appm) He amounting to ~0.2-2.8% swelling. A portion of the specimen is laser welded in a hot cell; the laser weld heat affected zone (HAZ) is studied and considered to have undergone post-irradiation annealing (PIA). An archival, virgin specimen is also studied as a control. We conduct nanoindentation, then prepare TEM lamellae from the indent plastic zone. In the 3 appm He condition, TEM investigation reveals nucleation of deformation-induced α’ martensite in the irradiated specimen, and metastable ε martensite in the PIA specimen. Meanwhile, the unirradiated control specimen exhibits evidence only of dislocation slip and twinning; this is unsurprising given that alternative deformation mechanisms such as twinning and martensitic transformation are typically observed only near cryogenic temperatures in austenitic SS. Surface area of irradiation-produced cavities contribute enough free energy to accommodate the martensitic transformation. The lower population of cavities in the PIA material enables metastable ε martensite formation, while the higher cavity number density in the irradiated material causes direct α’ martensite formation. In the 0.2 appm He condition, SEM-based micropillar compression tests confirm nanoindentation results. A deformation transition map with corresponding criteria has been proposed for tailoring the plasticity of irradiated steels. Irradiation damage could enable fundamental, mechanistic studies of deformation mechanisms that are typically only accessible at extremely low temperatures.