The Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL) is an exciting research endeavor for the Queen's Nuclear Materials Group. It uses a proton accelerator to introduce damage into materials at a microscopic scale. By studying the effects of this damage on the way that materials behave we can gain insight into, and draw parallels with, the way that materials are damaged within a nuclear reactor. The facility has been funded with a grant from CFI/MEDT and support from Queen's and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
The RMTL project was originally led by Prof. Rick Holt, then the NSERC/UNENE Industrial Research Chair in Nuclear Materials. Now an Emeritus Professor at Queen's, Holt continues to take a role in the realization and implementation of the RMTL. The new project lead is Prof. Mark Daymond, who became the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Nuclear Materials in the spring of 2012. The accelerator was installed in late 2013, with supporting infrastructure installed in 2014 and 2015. Final commissioning was completed in 2015.
There is presently a world-wide resurgence of investment in nuclear power. This has partly come from a desire to operate existing reactors beyond their originally planned lifetime, but is also combined with a realization that nuclear power must be a major component of power generation infrastructure over the next 50 years and beyond if countries wish to maintain low carbon emissions. Correspondingly, there is a renewed interest in research within the area of structural materials for nuclear power applications.
Materials behave quite differently in a nuclear power reactor environment than in conventional applications. The differences are due to the damage to the atomic structure of the materials caused by fast particles; in a reactor these particles are the neutrons that allow the nuclear reaction to occur.
The RMTL will investigate these materials issues using an approach based on the use of accelerator technology. By accelerating protons to moderately high energies, we can introduce damage into small pieces of material. This will simulate the effects occurring within a reactor, allowing us to investigate the way that materials respond to stress and temperature. The goal is to develop a better understanding of the way that materials operate in a reactor, leading to the safe, long-term running of reactors. The laboratory includes a state-of-the-art electron microscopy suite (SEM, TEM) for characterization of the materials that have been in the accelerator, and nano-indentation testing to see the effect on mechanical properties.
Similar accelerators are quite common; they are found in universities throughout Ontario and the rest of Canada for the study of, for example, semi-conductor technology; and in hospitals for the treatment of patients, however the application to the study of nuclear materials is unusual!
RMTL facilitates the use of a range of new equipment to prepare, analyze, and image materials. Equipment available for booking by Queen's students and staff are listed below. Please also see the RMTL Characterisation Laboratory site.
1. Accelerator - The main focus of research at RMTL, the accelerator uses a 4MV tandem producing up to 8MeV H or 12MeV He to simulate irradiation damage and facilitate implantation studies.
2. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) - The latest microscopy technology, FEI FEG-Nova NanoSem, is used to generate images of surface topography and determine chemical composition at very high resolutions. Capabilities include EBSD, EDX, and in situ heating and straining. Samples must be free of dust and electrically conductive, but may be any geometry or shape.
3. Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) - Passes electrons through a thin sample to examine fine details at extremely high resolutions (down to an atomic scale). TEM samples must be prepared down to less than 100 nanometers thick. The FEI Osiris FEG-TEM includes the following features: STEM, EDS, EELS, and in situ heating & straining.
4. Mechanical Testing Laboratory - Mechanical testing abilities at RMTL include:
a. In ion-beam quasi-static and creep testing at elevated temperatures, and;
b. Nano- and micro-indentation from ambient to elevated temperatures.
5. Analysis equipment including Ortec HPGe Gamma Ray Spec; Neutron Spectrometer (with Tony Waker, UOIT).
The building is also equipped with wet lab and dry lab for use in the preparation of sample specimens, where ion milling, elecctropolishing and other preparation techniques are readily available. Safe handling of hazardous materials is ensured at all times.
All workers at RMTL must undergo basic radiation safety training to enter and use the facilities. Training is given in a graduated scheme ranging from levels 1 to 3, whereby certain areas of the lab are restricted depending on level of training received. At RMTL, the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) policy is followed, which ensures exposure to radiation is minimal to workers and to the public. Long pants and closed toed shoes must be worn at all times while at the lab.