The pressure tubes in the CANDU power reactors

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 74, No. 831, 1981

C.E. ELLS and W. EVANS Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Research Company, Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories, Chalk River, Ontario

Nuclear power reactors using zirconium alloy pressure tubes generate electricity in several countries. Such reactors are particularly important in Ontario, where CANDUs generate about 30% of the total electricity produced in the Province. Starting with the commitment of NPD-2 in 1956, the pressure tubes of the first five CANDU reactors were made of cold-worked Zircaloy-2, an alloy of Zr and Sn. This alloy was developed by the US Navy, but the decision to use it in a cold-worked condition was based on AECL work. In 1958, the USSR published information on a new alloy, Zr-2.5 wt% Nb. The Nb promotes stabilization of the β-phase in the material, thus presenting opportunities of exploiting metallurgically strong pressure tubes analogous to the heat-treatable α-β titanium alloys. After construction of two reactors using Zr-2.5 wt% Nb in a quenched and aged condition, an extensive development program on cold-worked Zr-2.5 wt% Nb pressure tubes resulted in them becoming the reference tubes for all CANDU reactors committed since 1966. Anticipating the future needs of the domestic and export markets, AECL have pressure tubes of Zr-3.3 wt% Sn-0.8 wt% Nb-0.8 wt% Mo (Excel) in an advanced state of development. These tubes will be used in an annealed condition; our projections show that they will have improved dimensional stability over the lifetime of the reactors. These improvements result from experimental programs leading to an understanding of the relationship between microstructures and fabrication variables and effects of the environment during service in nuclear reactors.
Keywords: Technology, Metallurgical sciences, Pressure tubes, Reactors, CANDU reactor, Alloys, Zircaloy, Niobium.