Cast austenitic stainless steels (CASSs) are used in the cooling system of light water reactors (LWRs) for components with complex shapes, such as pump casings, valve bodies, coolant piping, etc. The CF grades of CASS alloys are the cast equivalents of 300-series stainless steels (SSs) and show excellent mechanical properties and corrosion resistance. In contrast to the fully austenitic microstructure of wrought SSs, CASS alloys consist of a dual-phase microstructure of delta ferrite and austenite and are vulnerable to thermal aging embrittlement. The service performance of CASS alloys is of concern after long-term exposure to high-temperature coolant. In this work, we studied the effects of thermal aging and ferrite content on the fracture resistance of CASS alloys. Crack growth rate and fracture toughness J–R curve tests were performed on aged and unaged CASS alloys in simulated light water reactor environments. The impact of thermal aging on the cracking susceptibility was investigated and the effect of ferrite content was evaluated. Significant embrittlement was observed in the CASS alloys after aging at 400°C. To understand the embrittlement mechanism, microstructural characterizations were performed with transmission electron microscope. The thermal aging produced G-phase precipitates and phase separation in the ferrite, but did not affect the microstructure of austenite. Consequently, the ferrite was hardened considerably after thermal aging while the hardness of austenite phase remained unchanged. The difference in hardness created a high incompatible strain at the interface between ferrite and austenite, leading to fracture at phase boundaries.

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