Over the last 20 years or so, many studies have revealed the deleterious effect of the environment on fatigue life of austenitic stainless steels in pressurized water reactor (PWR) primary water. The fatigue life correlation factor, so-called Fen, has been standardized to consider the effect on fatigue life evaluation. The formulations are function of strain rate and temperature due to their noticeable negative effect compared with other factors [1,2]. However, mechanism causing fatigue life reduction remains to be cleared.

As one of possible approaches to examine underlying mechanism of environmental effect, the authors focused on the effect of plastic strain, because it could lead microstructural evolution on the material. In addition, in the case of stress corrosion cracking (SCC), it is well known that the strain-hardening prior to exposure to the primary water can lead to remarkable increase of the susceptibility to cracking [3,4]. However, its effect on fatigue life has not explicitly been investigated yet.

The main effort in this study addressed the effect of the prior strain-hardening on low cycle fatigue life of 304L stainless steel (SS) exposed to the PWR primary water. A plate of 304LSS was strain hardened by cold rolling or tension prior to fatigue testing. The tests were performed under axial strain-controlled at 300 °C in primary water including B/Li and dissolved hydrogen, and in air. The effect on environmental fatigue life was investigated through a comparison of the Fen in experiments and in regulations, and also the effect on the fatigue limit defined at 106 cycles was discussed.

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