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The mechanism behind the high radiation tolerance of Fe-Cr alloys

Agarwal, S.; Butterling, M.; Liedke, M. O.; Yano, K.; Schreiber, D. K.; Jones, A. C. L.; Uberuaga, B. P.; Wang, Y. Q.; Chancey, M.; Kim, H.; Li, N.; Edwards, D. J.; Hosemann, P.; Kaoumi, D.; Hirschmann, E.; Wagner, A.; Selim, F. A.


With the great demand for high radiation tolerant materials for advanced nuclear energy technologies, Fe-Cr alloys are at the forefront with long standing validated performance. Yet, the real mechanism behind their high radiation resistance is in question and understanding the effect of varying Cr percentage is a grand challenge limiting further improvements. Here we applied depth resolved atomic scale probe of defects to uncover the real mechanism on how Cr improves radiation resistance and explain the controversial impact of increasing Cr percentage. By combining depth-resolved positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy and Doppler broadening spectroscopy we investigated the effect of Cr alloying on the formation and evolution of atomic size clusters induced by ion irradiation in Fe. We also used atom probe tomography to investigate the possible presence of Cr clusters or alpha' phase with high Cr composition. The study reveals that the well-known resistance to radiation in Fe-Cr alloys arises from the stabilization of vacancy clusters around Cr atoms which act as sinks for radiation-induced defects. Thus, Cr atoms do not provide a direct sink for interstitials; rather defect complexes for that consist of Cr atoms and vacancies in turn act as sinks for irradiation-induced vacancies and interstitials. Most importantly, we find that lower amounts of Cr create smaller, uniformly distributed defect clusters that act as efficient sinks for radiation damage, but larger quantities of Cr form a defect structure that is less homogenous in size and spatial distribution, resulting in less efficient damage recombination. No evidence of phase alpha’ was found before or after irradiation, which indicates that it does not contribute to the observed radiation tolerance.

Keywords: Vacancy clusters; ion-irradiation; Doppler broadening spectroscopy (DBS); positron annihilation lifetime (PALS); atom probe tomography (APT)

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