Acta Phys. -Chim. Sin. ›› 2022, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (3): 2003026.doi: 10.3866/PKU.WHXB202003026

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In Situ Study on the Initial Oxidation Behavior of Zirconium Alloys with Near-Ambient Pressure XPS

Jiuxiang Dai1,2, Zhongmiao Gong2, Shitong Xu1, Yi Cui2,*(), Meiyi Yao1,*()   

  1. 1 Institute of Materials, Shanghai University, Shanghai 200072, China
    2 Vacuum Interconnected Nanotech Workstation, Suzhou Institute of Nano-Tech and Nano-Bionics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Suzhou 215123, Jiangsu Province, China
  • Received:2020-03-11 Accepted:2020-04-10 Published:2020-04-21
  • Contact: Yi Cui,Meiyi Yao;
  • About author:Email: (M.Y.); +86-21-56338586 (M.Y.)
    Email: (Y.C.); Tel.: +86-13913595977 (Y.C.)
  • Supported by:
    the National Natural Science Foundation of China(51871141);the National 111 Project(D17002);ZDXKFZ(XKFZ201711)


Zirconium alloys are often used to fabricate nuclear fuel cladding and other structural materials because of their low thermal neutron absorption cross section, satisfactory corrosion resistance, and decent mechanical properties. The oxidation rate and hydrogen-absorption fraction of zirconium alloys can be reduced by adding moderate amount of Nb to them, and the corrosion resistance of zirconium alloys can be improved as well. Although the corrosion resistance of zirconium alloys has been widely recognized, the in situ study of zirconium alloys in conditions that resemble real oxidative-corrosion environments has still been a challenging subject. The initial oxidation behavior of zirconium alloys might affect the subsequent generation of oxides in the form of the element valence and type of surface oxides changes, resulting in the long-term corrosion-behavior changes. In addition, the reaction mechanism of Nb in zirconium alloys is still controversial. To investigate the influence of the alloy composition and environmental conditions on the initial oxidation behavior of zirconium alloys, in situ initial oxidation experiments were performed on two different Zr alloys in a near-ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (NAP-XPS) chamber. The samples were cut to the size of 12 mm × 3 mm, and the primary oxide film was removed via pickling, argon etching and annealing. Oxygen or water vapors with the pressure in the range of 1.3 × 10-8-1.3 × 10-1 mbar (1 mbar = 100 Pa) were gradually introduced into the NAP-XPS chamber after sample-surface cleaning. The experiment was repeated at room temperature (300 K) and 623 K. The results showed that both Nb-containing and Nb-free zirconium-alloy surfaces transitioned from a metallic state to various oxidation states during the initial oxidation process. The oxidation rates of both the alloys were lower in water vapors than those in oxygen. In the presence of water vapors or oxygen, both the alloys oxidized more slowly at room temperature than at 623 K. Compared with 1%Nb zirconium alloys, the Nb-free zirconium alloys were more easily oxidized and had a denser oxide layer, in the oxygen atmosphere at 623 K. To some extent, the presence of Nb would reduce the adsorption capacity of oxygen atoms. The oxidation rate of 1%Nb zirconium alloy was quick at room temperature and also at low water vapor pressures at 623 K; Nb promoted the formation of OH- at the surface. Under the high pressure vapor atmosphere at 623 K, the Nb-free zirconium alloys were more prone to be oxidized; Nb diffused to the surface at high temperatures and inhibited the breaking of the OH- bond; however, the surfaces of both the samples could not be completely oxidized in a short time.

Key words: Zirconium alloy, Nb, Initial oxidation, In situ, NAP-XPS