Abstract

Zirconolite (CaZrTi2O7) has been proposed as a crystalline ceramic host for the long-term disposal of actinides extracted from high-level nuclear waste (e.g. France) and from excess weapons-grade plutonium (e.g. USA). The disintegration of radionuclides induces modifications of the crystalline structure. During α-decay of actinides, localized cascades of displaced atoms occur primarily because of ballistic collisions in the material from the emitted α-recoil nuclei. Under α-decay irradiation, zirconolite undergoes a crystalline to amorphous transformation, which is associated to a volume expansion. We have focused our study on the understanding of radiation-induced structural changes at the atomic level in this ceramic. Molecular Dynamics (MD) has been used in the simulation of displacement cascades in zirconolite. Original Buckingham pair potentials have been established for zirconolite to characterize the two body short-range interactions between different ionic pairs. We present the potential parameters fitted to the structural equilibrium properties of the crystal. This fitting reproduces the characteristics of the cell parameters of zirconolite within 4% and gives reasonable values for the bulk modulus and the specific heat. The MD method is applied to determine the threshold displacement energies for the various sublattices. Finally, we have modelled the effects of displacement cascades in zirconolite, due to the α-recoil nuclei. For that purpose, two MD simulations of high recoil kinetic energies (2 and 6 keV) were performed. The preliminary results show that the complex matrix zirconolite tends to a structural disordering for high PKA energy values although a partial recrystallization step is observed during the energy dissipation.

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