Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Cladding Materials

Internationally, there’s a desire to improve the efficiency of nuclear energy, reduce the waste stream, and enhance accident tolerance. Los Alamos is developing new fuel cladding materials to achieve those goals. 

  • cladding materials

    Developing new fuel cladding materials through novel materials performance studies at exceptional facilities.

  • improved nuclear energy

    Providing the information essential for improved nuclear energy.

Get Expertise  

  • Advanced Reactor Core Materials Technical Lead, Fuel Cycle Research & Development Advanced Fuels Campaign
  • Stuart Maloy
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  • Key Technical Contacts
  • Tarik Saleh
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Advanced materials for nuclear energy

Los Alamos is developing advanced clad materials to

  • Close the nuclear fuel cycle by creating fuels that can be used to transmute minor actinides in fast reactors of the future
  • Enhance light water reactors' tolerance to the kinds of accidents that a nuclear facility is designed and built to withstand and beyond
  • Extend the life of today’s commercial reactors

Los Alamos performs this research as a partner in the U.S. Department of Energy Fuel Cycle Research & Development program.

Closing the fuel cycle to reduce nuclear waste

Today: U.S. nuclear reactors operate with an open fuel cycle where all U.S. power reactors burn fuel for a few years and store that used fuel at the nuclear reactors—leaving untapped energy in the nuclear fuel.

The Future: Operate with a closed fuel cycle where fast reactors recycle uranium, plutonium, and long-lived minor actinides resulting in significantly reducing the long-lived radioactive isotopes and the volume of nuclear waste.

To achieve this future, we are developing

  • Fuels with cladding materials that can withstand radiation doses up to 400 displacements per atom (dpa) at temperatures from 350-600 degrees Celsius
  • Radiation-tolerant clad materials including advanced oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) ferritic steels, such as 14YWT, to enable the mission of transmutation of minor actinides
cladding materials

The performance of a leading corrosion-resistant material was evaluated in the first-ever in situ irradiation in molten salt at Los Alamos’s Ion Beam Materials Laboratory. The resulting data, showing the combined effect of irradiation and corrosion, will help determine the material’s suitability for use in a chloride molten salt reactor.

Improving accident-tolerant materials

Aiding the development of enhanced accident-tolerant fuels, we are studying two promising candidate clad materials:

  • FeCrAl alloys similar to Kanthal APMT alloys
  • Mo-based alloys

With Los Alamos researchers and national lab and industry partners, we plan to help develop enhanced accident-tolerant fuel rods with the goal of irradiating full-length fuel rods in a light water reactor by 2022.

Our value: expertise and facilities enabling materials advances

Los Alamos National Laboratory combines a wealth of experience in handling radioactive materials, testing irradiation effects in materials, and materials science expertise with one-of-a-kind facilities to make these advances possible.

  • Researchers from around the world send us samples to test and characterize in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility (CMR), which has hot cells specially suited for testing irradiated materials.
  • The Electron Microscopy Laboratory enables us to perform microstructural analysis at the atomic scale; we use focused ion beams to produce thin foils and small-scale specimens, reducing the dose to the worker.
  • Ion Beam Materials Laboratory is where we bring a scientific understanding of microstructural changes observed during complex neutron irradiations through controlled ion irradiations.
Key program elements

Developing high-dose, radiation-tolerant materials for transmutation fuel development for fast reactors.

  • Test mechanical properties of high-dose irradiated specimens and components in hot cells
  • Perform controlled high-dose materials testing
  • Develop and test advanced radiation-tolerant oxide dispersion strengthened steels
  • Evaluate materials including ferritic/martensitic steels such as HT-9, and advanced oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) ferritic steels such as 14YWT
  • Collaborate with national laboratories (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and universities (e.g., University of California, Santa Barbara; University of California, Berkeley; and Case Western Reserve University)
  • Coordinate research with international programs in Europe, Japan, and China

Developing enhanced accident-tolerant clad materials for light water reactors.

  • Create and test methods of manufacturing thin-walled tubes from cladding made from FeCrAl alloys and Mo alloys
  • Test the mechanical properties of FeCrAl alloys at the CMR hot cells after neutron irradiations up to 20 dpa at 300-400 degrees Celsius
  • Test the resistance of FeCrAl and Mo clad materials in steam at temperatures up to 1200 degrees Celsius
  • Measure the deuterium diffusion rate at temperatures from 300-600 degrees Celsius.
  • Collaborate with national Labs (e.g., Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) and industry (e.g., Electric Power Research Institute, Westinghouse Electric Company, and General Electric)
Key capabilities and expertise

Los Alamos has exceptional facilities and expertise for cladding materials research:

  • Hot cells for testing irradiated materials
  • Steam testing up to 1200 degrees Celsius
  • Tube fabrication capabilities through extrusion and chemical vapor deposition
  • Deuterium diffusion measurement capabilities at temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius.
  • Materials testing and characterization, including mechanical testing at temperatures up to 1000 degrees Celsius and high-resolution scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy capabilities, combined with extensive experience in testing and characterizing radiation effects in materials. 

CMR Wing 9 hot cells

  • Instron 5500 screw driven test machine for tensile, compression, shear punch, and bend testing at temperatures up to 700 degrees Celsius
  • Milling machine
  • Remote metallurgical polishing
  • Hirox digital optical microscope

Ion Beam Materials Laboratory

  • Ion irradiations with protons, helium, and heavy ions to doses from 1-100s of dpa and temperatures up to 850 degrees Celsius

Characterization and testing facilities

  • Netzch STA for testing in steam up to 1200 degrees Celsius
  • Facility for deuterium diffusion measurements up to 600 degrees Celsius
  • Electron Microscopy Laboratory
  • Tube fabrication facilities
  • Mechanical Testing Laboratory
Technologies and applications: emerging, developed, or potential
  • Developed a novel experimentation platform to test zirconium and other cladding materials in the presence of high-temperature steam
  • Tested the most highly irradiated components after irradiation in DOE’s Hanford Site Fast Flux Test Facility to doses up to 155 dpa using the CMR hot cells.
Sponsors, funding sources, or agencies
  • U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy