The integrity of high density polyethylene (HDPE) piping and fusion joints are a topic of interest to the nuclear industry, regulators, ASME code, and the plastics pipe industry. The ASME Code Case N-755-1 has been approved and addresses the use of HDPE in safety related applications. Over the last few years some of the concerns identified with the parent HDPE pipe material and the fusion joints have been addressed while others are still being resolved. One such unresolved concern is the effect of the fusion process on the integrity of the joint, specifically, the introduction of flaws during the fusion process. The potential impact of flaws in the fusion joint on the service life of the HDPE piping is being evaluated.

The current study calculates stress intensity factors (SIF) for circumferential flaws and uses them to evaluate the potential structural integrity of HDPE fusion joints in pipes. The recent API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 standard provides SIF (KI) solutions to various semi-elliptical and full-circumferential (360°) surface cracks/flaws on the outer surface (OD) and the inner surface (ID). The API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 standard SIF tables and finite element analysis (FEA) of selected cases were used to develop simplified SIF relations for full-circumferential surface flaws that can be used for plastic pipes with diameters ranging from 101.6 mm (4 inch) through 914.4 mm (36 inch) and dimensional ratios (DRs) from 7 through 13. Further, the SIF of embedded flaws akin to lack-of-fusion regions was evaluated. The results from this study serve as precursors to understanding and advancing experimental methods to address important issues related to the critical tolerable flaw size in the butt-fusion joint material and were utilized to select the specimen tests and hydrostatic pipe tests used to evaluate various joining processes. Further, they will help with understanding the essential variables that control the long-term component integrity and structural performance of HDPE pipe joints in ASME Class 3 nuclear piping.

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