Materials in Extreme Environments
Materials in extreme environments
Overcoming the performance limits of current generation materials is among the greatest technical obstacles to the long term sustainability of nuclear power. Fast reactors that can run without the need for enrichment or reprocessing would be a major advance both economically and in their proliferation resistance. While research has shown that reactors such as these are possible, a practical implementation would require materials that can tolerate atomic displacement rates and levels far beyond what is currently possible. The safe disposal of long-lived radioactive waste will require fuel matrices and engineered barriers that can withstand high temperatures, radiation fields, as well as immersion in water, over millennia. License extensions to existing reactors will require methods to ensure that reactor vessels and related components can continue to perform within design limits.
The development of materials that can perform in the extreme environments encountered in various parts of the nuclear fuel cycle is considered to be among the grand challenges for the materials science community. Physical processes must be understood and controlled at spatial scales that range from the level of the atomic nucleus to that of a geological repository, and at timescales from less than a nanosecond to millennia. Faculty in the Nuclear Science and Engineering program at The Colorado School of Mines are working on the development of steels and oxides that can withstand the high radiation doses of next generation reactors and fuel cycles. They are also developing experimental methods to characterize the physical changes that occur in fuel as it is burned within a reactor, and methods to improve the performance of engineered systems to safely store radiological materials.
Faculty and researchers
- Kip Findley
- Ivar Reimanis
- Jeff King
- Zeev Shayer