Access to a variety of economic and environmentally sustainable energy sources is important for international energy security. Nuclear (fission) power currently provides ~20% of the US electricity, and a variety of fission and fusion energy concepts are under consideration for meeting growing future energy needs. These next generation nuclear energy systems will require development of advanced high-performance materials due to operation with high applied mechanical stress at higher temperatures and more intense radiation environments compared to current reactors. Key materials science challenges and research needs associated with reliable operation in these extreme operating environments will be summarized. Radiation-induced nanoscale complexes that evolve over multiple length and time scales (with the potential for dramatic accompanying property changes) are a recurring feature in many irradiated materials. Several strategies to design and manufacture new high-performance fuels and structural materials will be discussed, leveraging recent innovations in the broader field of materials research.
Steve Zinkle is the Governor’s Chair Professor for Nuclear Materials at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with a joint appointment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). He previously served for 28 years in a variety of R&D roles at ORNL. His research interests include deformation and fracture mechanisms in structural materials, advanced manufacturing, and radiation effects in materials. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1985. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is a fellow of The Metals, Minerals and Materials Society (TMS), the Materials Research Society, ASM International, American Nuclear Society, and the American Physical Society.