Finding that nitrogen can combine with oxygen in zirconia to form NO may lead to safer materials for nuclear reactors

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 07:31 in Physics & Chemistry

The understanding of oxidation and corrosion processes is essential for a wide range of applications, particularly those related to the nuclear industry. Zhi Gen Yu at the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing and co-workers have now performed calculations to study how nitrogen degrades zirconium — a material widely used for cladding fuel rods in nuclear reactors — and found that nitrogen atoms entering zirconia (the oxidized form of zirconium) do not simply replace oxygen atoms. Instead, the researchers showed that nitrogen atoms combine with oxygen atoms to form nitrosyl (NO) radicals, which bind the zirconium lattice. They believe that this mechanism promotes the corrosion of zirconia in nuclear reactors.

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