Microstructural Characterization and Pore Structure Analysis of Nuclear Graphite

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Graphite will be used as a structural and moderator material in next-generation nuclear reactors. While the overall nature of the production of nuclear graphite is well understood, the historic nuclear grades of graphite are no longer available. This paper reports the virgin microstructural characteristics of filler particles and macro-scale porosity in virgin nuclear graphite grades of interest to the Next Generation Nuclear Plant program. Optical microscopy was used to characterize filler particle size and shape as well as the arrangement of shrinkage cracks. Computer aided image analysis was applied to optical images to quantitatively determine the variation of pore structure, area, eccentricity, and orientation within and between grades. The overall porosity ranged between ~14% and 21%. A few large pores constitute the majority of the overall porosity. The distribution of pore area in all grades was roughly logarithmic in nature. The average pore was best fit by an ellipse with aspect ratio of ~2. An estimated 0.6–0.9% of observed porosity was attributed to shrinkage cracks in the filler particles. Finally, a preferred orientation of the porosity was observed in all grades.