The Zr-2.5Nb pressure tubes of CANDU reactors are susceptible to a crack initiation and growth mechanism known as Delayed Hydride Cracking (DHC), which is a repetitive process that involves hydrogen diffusion, hydride precipitation, hydrided region formation and fracture at a flaw or crack tip. The threshold stress intensity for DHC initiation from a crack, KIH, is an important material parameter for assessing DHC initiation from flaws in pressure tubes. KIH is used to determine whether DHC initiation may occur from flaws which are postulated as crack-like. It is also an input parameter in the engineering process-zone methodology to assess DHC initiation from blunt flaws. Tests were performed to determine the effect of hydrogen concentration in solution on KIH in unirradiated Zr-2.5 Nb material, subjected to different thermo-mechanical treatments to obtain different yield strength or hardness. Hydrogen concentration in solution represents the diffusible hydrogen available for the DHC process, and is different than the total hydrogen concentration which includes the immobile hydrogen in the zirconium hydride phase. For all material conditions, the KIH values at 250°C are significantly higher when the hydrogen concentration in solution is low. Post test metallographic examination indicates that the crack-tip hydride is large and has a taper shape when the hydrogen concentration in solution is high. This suggests that KIH is reached due to insufficient stress to crack the hydrides. When the hydrogen concentration in solution is low, the crack-tip hydride is small and KIH is reached due to limited hydride growth. Finite element diffusion analysis was performed to determine the crack tip hydride accumulation as a function of KI and hydrogen in solution. For high hydrogen concentration in solution, the model predicts a taper hydride shape and hydride lengths which are consistent with the trend observed in the experiments. Another set of KIH tests was performed at 200°C on unirradiated pressure tube material hydrided to 60 and 100 ppm hydrogen. The test results indicated that KIH is controlled by the hydrogen in solution and is not affected by the amount of hydrogen in bulk hydrides.

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