Elastomers show a high versatility which makes them ideal materials for sealing applications in various fields. Especially under changing application conditions the high recovery potential of this class of material is beneficial to compensate temperature or pressure fluctuation, and geometrical changes resulting from mechanical loads in e.g. accident conditions. Out of these reasons elastomers are also used in containers for low and intermediate level radioactive waste and for spent fuel transportation casks. In casks designed for low and intermediate level waste elastomer seals can act as primary seal responsible for the containment function whereas in spent fuel storage and transportation casks (dual purpose casks (DPC)) elastomer seals are used as auxiliary seals to allow leakage rate measurements of metal barrier seals. An inherent prerequisite for this kind of application is the long time-scale of operation without or with limited possibility of seal replacement. In Germany an interim storage license for DPC’s is typically issued for 40 years, a timeframe which might increase in the future due to challenges of the final repository siting procedure. For low and intermediate level waste, also long time periods are required before final disposal can be achieved. Therefore, the performance of elastomer seals over extended time periods is, as for other applications, of high importance.
A typical approach to ensure long-term functionality is to perform accelerated aging tests to calculate an estimated lifetime by assuming e.g. Arrhenius like equations for the timetemperature relationship. This approach requires a suitable end of life criterion considering the application of interest. This often can represent a challenge on its own.
As BAM is involved in most of the cask licensing procedures and especially responsible for the evaluation of cask-related long-term safety issues we initiated several test programs for investigating the behavior of elastomer seals. Experiments concerning the low temperature performance down to −40 °C and the influence of gamma irradiation have been started first. Currently the thermal aging behavior of elastomer seals, which is the topic of this contribution, is examined.
For our aging investigations we use a broad approach to first determine the property changes in different elastomer materials due to thermo-oxidative aging at elevated temperatures and secondly, we test how the typical methods of lifetime extrapolation can be applied to these results. This approach enables us to detect and exclude undesired side effects which very often influence lifetime estimations. In this contribution, our recent results are extended. The results show that lifetime estimation based on single material properties can be misleading and therefore a combination of several methods is recommended.