Radiation speeds up corrosion, and – when combined with other stresses – causes tiny cracks in certain alloys used inside reactors. That damage can cause other, more expensive, equipment to fail, so the reactor has to be shut down while the alloys are repaired or replaced. That costs power companies a lot of money in lost production.
The Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory lets researchers shoot beams of electrically charged atoms, or ions, at a material in a way that simulates the radiation effects of a nuclear reactor. Using ion beams, Was and his team have shown they can replicate a decade’s worth of nuclear wear and tear in just a few days.