Aging management of the existing fleet of nuclear power plants is becoming an increasingly important topic, especially as many units are approaching their design lifetimes or are entering long-term operation. As these plants continue to age, there is an increased probability for the need of repairs due to extended exposure to a harsh environment. It is paramount that qualified and validated solutions are readily available.
A repair method for a postulated through cladding crack into the low alloy steel of a nuclear power plant’s reactor pressure vessel has been investigated in this study. This paper is part of larger study that evaluates the current possibilities of such repair welds. The present paper documents the weld-trials and method selection. A parallel paper describes numerical simulations and optimization of weld parameters. The presented weld-trial represents a case where a postulated crack has been excavated and repaired using a nickel base Alloy 52M filler metal by gas metal arc welding-cold metal transfer with a robotic arm. A SA235 structural steel has been used as a base material in this weld-trial. No pre-heating or post-weld heat treatment will be applied, as it would be nearly impossible to apply these treatments in a reactor pressure vessel repair situation.
While Alloy 52M presents good material properties, in terms of resistance to environmentally assisted degradation mechanisms, such as primary water stress corrosion cracking, it is notoriously difficult to weld. Some difficulties and challenges during welding include a sluggish weld puddle, formation of titanium and/or aluminium oxides and its susceptibility to lack of fusion defects and weld metal cracking, such as ductility dip cracking and solidification cracking. Moreover, gas metal arc welding-cold metal transfer is not traditionally used in the nuclear industry. Nonetheless, it presents some interesting advantages, specifically concerning heat input requirements and automation possibilities, as compared to traditional welding methods.
The mechanical properties, in terms of indentation hardness, and microstructure of a weld-trial sample have been evaluated in this study. The fusion boundary and heat affected zone were the main areas of focus when evaluating the mechanical and microstructural properties. Detailed microstructural characterization using electron backscatter diffraction and nanoindentation were performed across the weld interface. Based on these results, the gas metal arc welding cold metal transfer is seen as a potential high-quality weld method for reactor pressure vessel repair cases.