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Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical and Materials Engineering


Abdolvand, Hamidreza


Zirconium and its alloys are extensively used in the core of nuclear reactors, primarily chosen for their low neutron absorption cross-section. During service, components made of zirconium alloys, such as claddings and structural materials experience varied mechanical loads. Fretting flaws, induced by debris trapped between fuel bundles and pressure tubes, act as stress risers, accelerating degradation mechanisms. Hence, the lifetime of nuclear reactors depends greatly on the state of zirconium-alloy components. The development of localized stresses in these components is linked to the zirconium microstructure because of its high degree of anisotropy. This thesis employs three-dimensional synchrotron X-ray diffraction combined with crystal plasticity modelling to study the evolution of grain-scale stresses in double-edge-notched zirconium specimens subjected to low cyclic loading.

Initially, the electron backscatter diffraction technique is used to measure grain location, orientation, and morphology. These measurements are compared with the ones obtained from three-dimensional synchrotron X-ray diffraction that are reconstructed using the weighted Voronoi tessellation. More than 80% of grains were matched.

The effects of microstructure and notch geometries on stress distribution are investigated using two different textures and two different notch geometries. In the first texture, the c-axis of hexagonal close packed grains are distributed along and perpendicular to the loading direction. This distribution of crystallographic orientations introduces large stress heterogeneities. It is shown that the developed asymmetries in the stress distributions in the vicinity of notches at the early stages of plasticity remain persistent with further cyclic loading and progressing into the plastic zone. In the second texture, the c-axis of grains are oriented perpendicular to the loading direction. It is shown that grain-scale stress concentration factors vary significantly before the onset of plasticity, but they settle in the plastic zone and with the progression of cycles. For the second texture, although the c-axis of the grains are perpendicular to the macroscopic loading direction, a strong grain orientation effects on the grain-average stresses is observed.

Summary for Lay Audience

Nuclear energy has emerged as a reliable and low-emission source of energy in the 21st century. In Ontario, CANada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) nuclear reactors currently account for nearly 60% of the electricity demand. The lifetime of these reactors is affected by the performance of the metal alloys used in the core of the reactor. Due to their good mechanical properties and low absorption cross section against neutrons, zirconium alloys are used to manufacture critical core components of CANDUs. These components are exposed to a harsh environment while carrying thermomechanical loads. For example, in the zirconium-alloy pressure tubes, induced fretting flaws can act as stress risers affecting the degradation and corrosion of the tube. In collaboration with Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) in the U.S., my research focuses on measuring stress concentrations near flawed geometries at the microscale level to improve our understanding of the impacts of such flaws on the degradation of zirconium alloys.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, February 22, 2026