The observation of numerous small and large cracks in ferritic feed water pipes of boiling (BWR) and pressurized water reactors (PWR) in the last few years has led to basic research into the causes of cracking and the crack growth mechanisms.
In horizontal feed water pipe sections connected to nozzles of reactor pressure vessels (RPV) of BWR's as well as of steam generators (SG) of PWR's, circumferential macro and micro cracks were detected. These cracking phenomena could be observed in base material of pipes as well as in weld seam regions. The examination of the stress state displayed that the cracked pipe regions have been exposed to a number of cyclic thermal transients (thermal shock, flow stratification) during start-up (hot stand-by) and shut-down periods of the plants. During thermal transient periods, local and global cyclic stresses in the referred pipe cross sections have been induced which in interaction with the influence from environment (in operation as well as in shut-down periods) and local geometrical imperfections led to the initiation and formation of macro and micro cracks.
In the reactor water clean-up system of BWR through which reactor water is fed from the RPV to the main feed water line, two longitudinally welded elbows have been detected to be severely cracked. Both elbows have been subjected to an internal pressure corresponding to RPV and additionally to a relevant “in-plane” bending moment. These longitudinal cracks were found to be started from the inner elbow surface. In one case the longitudinal crack was situated in the base material and was enlarged to leakage. In the second elbow the longitudinal crack was located in the heat affected zone (HAZ) of a longitudinal weld. In both cases the macro cracks started either from corrosion pits located in defective areas of the magnetic protection layer or from geometrical notches (weld root). The semi-elliptic small cracks got linked to more extended shallow cracks.
Formation and growth mechanism of these cracks have been studied at the MPA Stuttgart in laboratory under simulated operation conditions which were held as realistic as possible compared with those in nuclear power plants.
The results of experimental studies in laboratory as well as conclusions based on the above mentioned cracking phenomena in piping have been used as basic information for a realistic design of large scale (RPV) thermal shock experiments under operation conditions. The formation and growth mechanism of these cracks and their detection by means of NDE during thermal transients at the inner surface of RPV nozzle and at the adjacent cylindrical areas of RPV shell will be described.