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NE 120

Course Title: 
Nuclear Materials
Course Units: 
Catalog Description: 
  • Effects of irradiation on the atomic and mechanical properties of materials in nuclear reactors. Fission product swelling and release; neutron damage to structural alloys; fabrication and properties of uranium dioxide fuel.
Course Prerequisite: 
  • Introductory course on properties of materials (Engin. 45)
  • Upper division course in thermodynamics (Engin. 115, ME 105, or ChemE 141)
Prerequisite Knowledge and/or Skills: 
  • Mathematics up to ordinary and partial differential equations
  • Basic thermodynamics, including chemical equilibrium and equations of state of gases
  • Knowledge of simple crystal structures
  • Basic mechanisms of the interaction of high-energy particles with solids
  • Basic concepts of the elastic and plastic behavior of materials
  • Behavior of neutrons in light-water reactors
Course Objectives: 
  • Review those aspects of fundamental solid state physics that are pertinent to understanding the effects of radiation on crystalline solids
  • Show how radiation, particularly by fast neutrons, affects the mechanical properties of fuel, cladding, and structural materials in a reactor core
  • Explain quantitatively the production of heat in a fuel rod and the temperature distribution in a fuel pellet
  • Give an understanding of the behavior of fission products in ceramic fuel, how they are formed, how they migrate, and how they affect properties of the fuel
Course Outcomes: 
  • Calculate the maximum temperature of an operating fuel pin; understand the effect of the heat transfer resistance due to the fuel-cladding gap; grasp how the thermal analysis inside the fuel rod is connected to the thermal analysis of the flowing coolant that is covered in the course NE 161.
  • Solve steady heat diffusion problems beginning from Fick's law; understand how the diffusion coefficient is related to the mobility of atoms in the crystalline lattice.
  • Deal with point defects in solids; how they are produced at thermal equilibrium and by neutron irradiation; how they agglomerate to form voids in metals or grow gas bubbles in the fuel.
  • Analyze the processes of fission gas release and swelling of reactor fuel.
  • Understand how the grain structure of ceramic UO2 influences properties such as creep rate and fission product release.
  • Understand the concept and quantitative properties of dislocations, and how irradiation-produced point defects influences their motion and hence material properties.
  • Know the principal effects of radiation on metals: the "black dot" structure, dislocation loops, voids, precipitates, and helium bubbles.
Topics Covered: 
  1. Introduction: types of reactor and their materials and thermal aspects
  2. Crystal structure of solids; point defect types and structures
  3. Equilibrium concentrations of point defects in crystals
  4. Diffusion in solids: Fick's law; atomic mechanisms
  5. Elastic behavior of solids; thermoelasticity
  6. Plastic deformation and dislocations in solids:
  7. Mechanical properties of metals
  8. Cavities in solids: pores, bubbles, and voids
  9. Fission product behavior in nuclear fuel; swelling and release
  10. Polycrystalline solids; sintering and grain growth
  11. Radiation damage in metals
  12. Fast-neutron irradiation effects in metals
Textbook(s) and/or Other Required Materials: 
  • Reference Text: D. R. Olander, Fundamental Aspects of Nuclear Reactor Fuel Elements, TID-26711-P1, National Technical Information Services (1976) (on reserve in Engieering Library)
  • Course Reader: for sale at Copy Central
Class/Laboratory Schedule: 
  • Three 50-minute lectures per week; two office hours per week held by the teaching assistant and two per week by the instructor
Contribution of Course to Meeting the Professional Component: 
  • This course contributes primarily to the students' knowledge of engineering topics, and does provide design experience.
  • Materials problems ultimately limit the performance and safety of fission power plants, particularly with the current industry emphasis on extended burn up and "hot" PWR operation. NE 120 is required for students in the General Nuclear Engineering area of emphasis in the three-part division of the Department's curriculum. This course illustrates, through specific examples, the materials performance of nuclear fuels and structures, with particular emphasis on light water reactors. Design-related features of the course include the calculations of fuel-rod temperature distributions, evolution of mechanical properties under irradiation, and the behavior of fission gases on fuel performance.
Relationship of Course to Degree Program Objectives: 
  • This course primarily serves students in the department. The information below describes how the course contributes to the undergraduate program objectives.
  • This course contributes to the reactor-engineering component of the Department's program objectives by providing education in the important subdiscipline of nuclear materials. It prepares students for work in the materials-related groups in nuclear utilities and reactor vendors, as well as providing them with a solid background should they wish to pursue graduate work in the nuclear materials area.
Assessment of Student Progress Toward Course Objectives: 
  • Problem sets (nine or ten in the semester): 20%
  • Two midterm exams: 40%
  • Final exam: 40%