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Radiation Damage

Last updated: July 19, 2024

What Does Radiation Damage Mean?

Radiation damage is associated with ionizing radiation, which tends to be increasingly damaging in the following order of molecular formation:

  • Metallic bond (least damaged)
  • Ionic bond
  • Covalent bond (most damaged)

Radiation damage is an important consideration in the design of nuclear reactors, where radiation levels are high. Radiation damage is one of the devastating effects of nuclear weapons.

Radiation increases the aging of materials and accelerates corrosion.


Corrosionpedia Explains Radiation Damage

Radiation damage has deleterious affects on materials and devices by:

  • Causing materials to become radioactive
  • Nuclear transmutation of the elements within the material, causing alteration of mechanical properties of the materials
  • Radiolysis within the material which promotes corrosion, causes belittlement, promotes cracking
  • Formation of reactive compounds, affecting other materials
  • Ionization, causing electrical breakdown

Radiation damage to gases plays an important role in the device's aging, especially in devices exposed to high-intensity radiation. All liquids are subject to radiation damage, with a few exotic exceptions.

The effects of radiation on the mechanical (and metallurgical) properties include changes to strength and ductility. Mechanical properties are directly related to microstructural characteristics of a given material. Radiation can change electrical properties such as the conductivity of a material.

Since radiation increases a device’s aging, it accelerates corrosion. For example:

  • Ionization of air surrounding a target by primary and secondary particles can create a very aggressive, corrosive environment
  • High-strength steel may suffer hydrogen embrittlement.
  • Coupled with radiation damage of material, not only accelerates corrosion, but changes the nature of the corrosion morphology (localized pitting versus uniform layer).

Radiation damage can be reduced by reducing the amount of energy deposited in the sensitive material (e.g. by shielding or spatial orientation), or modification of the material to be less sensitive to radiation damage (e.g. by adding stabilizers or choosing a more suitable material).

The damage is caused by the removal of atoms from a solid material when elementary particles collide with it. The detrimental consequences of radiation are referred to as radiation damage. Radiation causes detrimental effects on:

  • Materials and devices
  • Gases
  • Liquids
  • Biological cells

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