Equibiaxial Flexural Strength Determination of UO2 Using a Ball-on-Ring Test

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To increase nuclear fuel performance and reliability, their mechanical properties require an accurate and statistically relevant assessment. Biaxial flexural strength tests provide an alternative to bend bar techniques for assessing mechanical behavior; namely, the transverse rupture strength (TRS) of ceramic samples. Biaxial test samples require simple geometries and minimal surface preparation, reducing fabrication costs and handling hazards. This study investigated the TRS of polycrystalline UO2 fuel forms at room temperature using a ball-on-ring test fixture. Pellets were fabricated from UO2 powder using conventional powder processing and sintering techniques. The TRS and Weibull parameters were obtained through Weibull statistics on over 60 UO2 samples tested under equibiaxial flexure. The larger sample size in this study enabled a more robust Weibull statistical analysis than alternative test methods, which may not capture the stochastic failure of typical ceramics. Furthermore, two different loading ball diameters were employed to assess the impact of contact damage on fracture strength. While Hertzian contact damage was observed with the smaller loading ball, the fracture strength remained unaffected. A fracture analysis of the tested UO2 samples indicated a mixture of intergranular and transgranular fracture that transitions to transgranular fracture with increasing distance from the fracture origin. The characteristic strength of the combined data sets was determined to be 148 MPa, and the Weibull modulus was determined to be 9.1. The TRS values and Weibull parameters were close to values found in the literature for alternative testing techniques using samples with similar microstructure and density. The findings in this study validate the ball-on-ring method used to obtain the TRS of UO2 with a sample geometry more representative of nuclear fuels. Additionally, experimental TRS results from this study can be implemented in modeling codes to predict fuel performance, which is critical to fuel burnup extension and advanced nuclear fuel technologies.