In 2012 non-destructive testing measurements (NDT) of the reactor pressure vessels (RPV) in the Belgian Nuclear Power Plants Doel 3 and Tihange 2 revealed a high quantity of indications in the upper and lower core shells. The most likely explanation is that the measured indications are hydrogen flakes positioned in segregated zones in the base material of the pressure vessels. These hydrogen flakes have a laminar and quasi-laminar orientation with an inclination up to 15° to the pressure retaining surface. Under internal pressure, the crack tips undergo predominantly mixed mode loading conditions, where the induced stress and strain fields of the single crack tips influence each other. The safety assessment of crack afflicted pressurized components is performed by fracture mechanical approaches. For the evaluation of multiple cracks in crack fields, state of the art codes and standards apply interaction criteria and grouping methods, to determine a representative crack, which has to be evaluated.

In this paper, the interaction of cracks in crack fields is numerically and experimentally evaluated. Damage mechanical models based on the Rousselier- and the Beremin model are used to investigate numerically the interaction of cracks in crack fields. Experimental data from ferritic flat tensile specimens afflicted with cracks are used to verify the numerical results.

The damage mechanical calculations reveal critical crack arrangements due to coalescence behavior and cleavage fracture probability. These results and ongoing research intends the derivation of interaction criteria for cracks in crack fields. The interaction criteria will be used for the definition of a representative flaw for a conservative integrity assessment of crack afflicted components.

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