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Erosion in Nuclear Piping Systems

Harold M. Crockett


1300 West W. T. Harris Boulevard,

Charlotte, NC 28262 e-mail: hcrockett@epri.com

Jeffrey S. Horowitz


3331 Avenida Sierra,

Escondido, CA 92029 e-mail: jshorowitz@aol.com

Various mechanisms degrade components and power piping in nuclear power plants. The mechanism with the greatest conse- quence has been flow-accelerated corrosion (FAC). FAC has caused ruptures and leaks and has led to numerous piping re- placements. United States utilities use a combination of EPRI guidance, software, and aggressive inspection programs to deal with FAC. However, current technology does not detail guidance for erosive forms of attack including, cavitation erosion, flashing erosion, droplet impingement, and solid particle erosion. These forms of degradation have caused shutdowns, and leaks have be- come a maintenance issue. This brief will present a description of erosive damage mechanisms found in nuclear power plants. DOI: 10.1115/1.4000509

1 Introduction

Most nuclear power plants have inspection programs in place to control flow-accelerated corrosion FAC . FAC is a well-known phenomenon that has been extensively documented 1 . FAC is a corrosion process caused by the dissolution of the normally pro- tective oxide layer. FAC usually occurs in piping and components of the extraction steam, heater drains, and feedwater systems. In fact, FAC is the predominant degradation mechanism in these sys- tems. Notable examples of the consequences of FAC were the failures at Surry Unit 2 in 1986 and in Mihama Unit 3 in 2004. In addition to FAC, various erosion mechanisms also affect these systems. These mechanisms have increased maintenance ac- tivities and have caused leaks, piping failures, loss of condenser vacuum, and reactor trips. This brief will provide an overview of the erosive mechanisms normally encountered.

2 Mechanisms Considered

Four erosive mechanisms have been found to cause degradation in nuclear piping 2 . These mechanisms will be introduced.

2.1 Cavitation. Cavitation damage may occur when there is a

flowing liquid stream that experiences a drop in pressure followed by a pressure recovery. Such a pressure drop i.e., the difference between the upstream pressure and the downstream pressure can occur in valve internals where the flow has to accelerate through a small area. As the fluid moves through the restricted area, the fluid velocity increases and the pressure decreases, as shown by the momentum equation i.e., Bernoulli’s theorem . If the local pres- sure passes below the vapor pressure at the liquid temperature, then small bubbles are formed. When the downstream pressure rises above the vapor pressure, these bubbles or cavities col-

Contributed by the Pressure Vessel and Piping Division of ASME for publication in the J OURNAL OF P RESSURE V ESSEL T ECHNOLOGY. Manuscript received November 30, 2007; final manuscript received August 21, 2009; published online January 29, 2010. Assoc. Editor: Noel O’Dowd.

lapse. The collapse of the bubbles causes high local pressures and very high local water jet velocities. If the collapsing bubbles are close enough to a solid surface, damage to that surface will result. The collapse of the numerous bubbles generates noise and vi- bration. Most often, cavitation causes most of its damage with vibration e.g., cracked welds, broken instrument lines, and loos- ened flanges . The erosion caused by cavitation also generates particles that will contaminate the process fluid Cavitation has caused leaks and thinning in power piping and damage to valve internals. It has also been linked to spurious reactor trips and to increased valve maintenance. Finally, the use of an unsuitable valve i.e., one that cavitates may result in vi- bration of the valve internals. These vibrations contribute to the noise generated and also cause loosening of parts and mechanical fatigue of valve components or attached piping. Cavitation occurs in such diverse situations as hydroelectric turbines, ship propellers, and pump internals. However, only cavi- tation in valves and piping components is discussed in this brief. Also note that cavitation has been extensively studied for many years and there is a very large body of literature dealing with various aspects of the issue including a number of well-known textbooks on the subject. Although there is still disagreement about the precise nature of the damage mechanism, cavitation is well enough understood that it can be dealt with by competent design practices. For power plant systems, cavitation most often occurs in con- trol valves i.e., high-pressure drop valves and downstream of orifices in liquid-filled systems. For convenience, cavitation is often divided into a number of regimes to describe the extent of the cavitation process that oc- curs. It should be noted that different investigators use slightly or completely different definitions for generally similar terms. There are several empirical methods available to predict the cavitation regime as a function of flow rate, fluid properties, and geometry for most common situations. For example, Ref. 3 was the basis for the cavitation model used in the CHECWORKS™ cool- ing water application. A detailed discussion of these methods is beyond the scope of this brief. According to Ozol 4 , most cavitation problems in nuclear plants are caused by either:

• valves improperly sized for a given application or

• improper operation most often throttling of properly sized valves

• improper types of valves being used to control flow e.g., butterfly valves

Damage caused by cavitation is normally rapid and localized. The damaged surface is usually very rough and irregular.

2.2 Flashing Erosion. Flashing occurs when a high-pressure

liquid flows through a valve or an orifice to a region of greatly reduced pressure. If the pressure drops below the vapor pressure, some of the liquid will be spontaneously converted to steam. The downstream velocity will be greatly increased due to a much lower average density of the two-phase mixture. The impact of the high-velocity liquid on piping or components creates flashing damage. When flashing occurs, the flow is choked. This is the maximum possible flow is passing through the restriction at the given up- stream pressure. This regime is also known as supercavitation. The only way to increase the flow is to increase the upstream pressure. When this state is reached, the sound velocity in the two-phase mixture has been reached. This is exactly analogous to sonic velocity in a gas passing through a convergent nozzle. Note, however, that in the case of two-phase mixtures, the sonic velocity of the mixture is only a small fraction of the sound speeds in either of the pure liquid and the pure vapor phases. In addition to erosion, flashing will result in unstable chaotic conditions in the downstream pipe. Such conditions may cause

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harmful vibrations to occur. It should be noted that in cavitation, the downstream pressure is normally above the local vapor pressure so that the bubbles col- lapse. In flashing situations, the pressure is below the local vapor pressure so that the bubbles do not collapse and are transported downstream. Also there are ways of preventing cavitation from occurring e.g., changing the design of the control valve , but if the downstream pressure is below the vapor pressure of the in- coming stream, then flashing will occur. Flashing normally occurs downstream of valves or orifices in liquid lines that are going to the condenser or possibly down- stream of control valves in cascading drains. Other possible loca- tions would include downstream of leaking valves located be- tween system pressure and the condenser. There is considerably less technical literature covering flashing than cavitation 2 . Although there is some information available from valve manufacturers, the subject of flashing erosion, particu- larly in the downstream piping, is rarely mentioned. Damage due to flashing can be found in and downstream of pressure-reducing valves. The form of the damage is usually re- ferred to as “smooth” or “polished” 2 . As a practical matter, flashing erosion is dealt with by valve manufacturers by installing erosion-resistant materials for valves expected to be in severe service that may include flashing down- stream of the most restricted part of the valve. Unfortunately, usually flashing erosion in piping is not considered until a leak or a pipe rupture occurs.

2.3 Liquid Impingement Erosion. Liquid impingement ero-

sion LIE or droplet impingement is caused by the impact of high-velocity droplets or liquid jets. Normally, LIE occurs when a two-phase stream experiences a high-pressure drop e.g., across an orifice on a line to the condenser . When this occurs, there is an acceleration of both phases with the liquid velocity increasing to the point that if the liquid strikes a metallic surface, damage to the surface will result. Droplet speeds greater than about 100 m/s

330 ft / s have been shown to damage carbon steel items. The main distinction between flashing and LIE is that in flashing the fluid is low quality mostly liquid with some steam , and with LIE, the fluid is high quality mostly steam with some liquid . In contrast to flashing damage, surfaces damaged by LIE are nor- mally very rough and irregular. There are two main practical situations in which LIE has been studied extensively because of problems experienced. These are the erosion of steam turbine internals and the erosion of high- velocity airplane components particularly canopies by rain 2 . Erosion in steam turbines has been studied since the 1920s. The materials of principal interest are high alloy steels and more exotic materials. Most of the steam turbine erosion problems have been solved through redesign and improved materials, although prob- lems may appear when new turbine designs are employed. A good treatment of erosion in steam turbines is found in Ref. 5 . Although conceptually LIE downstream of a valve and LIE in a steam turbine would seem similar, there is a significant difference. In a turbine, as work is extracted from the steam, the pressure decreases until it reaches a point where droplets nucleate and are carried downstream. Some of these droplets will impact and be- come attached to nonrotating portions of the turbine, especially the low-pressure stationary blades. Some of this water is then re-entrained and flows downstream. Extensive research has dem- onstrated that the very small droplets in the stream do not cause the damage to the low-pressure turbine blades. Rather it is the re-entrained, larger drops that cause the bulk of the damage. In the flow downstream of a valve or orifice, there probably is not a similar mechanism to separate and re-entrain the flow. Erosion in airplane components in rain became an issue in the 1940s as the speed of aircraft particularly military aircraft ex- ceeded about 550 km/h 350 miles/h . At this speed, a heavy rain damaged even metallic forward facing components. Particular problem areas included windshields, canopies, and

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radomes. Because of the necessity for having these materials transparent either to light or radio waves, nonmetallics have been used, thus, this experience is not of direct interest to the power industry. Unfortunately, there is only a small amount of literature directly related to experience with LIE in power piping. The most relevant literature deals with the steam turbine experience, but as noted above, most of the experimental work involved high alloy steels.

2.4 Solid Particle Erosion. In contrast to the three mecha-

nisms described above, solid particle erosion SPE is damage caused by particles transported by the fluid stream rather than by

liquid water or collapsing bubbles. While the exact damage mechanism of SPE is not fully understood, if hard large particles are present at sufficiently high velocities, damage will occur. In contrast to liquid impingement erosion, the necessary velocities for SPE are quite low. Kosel 6 quoted this velocity as being 1 m/s 3.3 ft/s for ductile materials. Surfaces damaged by SPE have a very variable morphology. Kosel 6 stated that

Manifestations of SPE in service usually include thinning of components, a macroscopic scooping appearance following the gas/particle flow field, surface roughening ranging from polishing to severe roughening, depending on particle size and velocity , lack of the directional grooving characteristics of abrasion, and in some but not all cases, the formation of ripple patterns on metals.

Solid particle erosion has been studied for years as harmful effects have been experienced in a large number of engineering situations, including

• steam turbines

• helicopter rotors

• gas turbines

• pipelines and valves transporting particulate material

• fluidized bed boilers

• rocket motor nozzles

Of particular concern to the power generation industry is the damage SPE causes in steam turbines. McCloskey et al. 5 dis- cussed steam turbine concerns for fossil turbines. In this case, the particles have been found to be corrosion products from the up- stream heat exchanger surfaces that have exfoliated and been transported downstream. SPE has been found in several areas of nuclear plants particu- larly in the steam generator blowdown system of pressurized wa- ter reactors PWRs and in raw water systems. SPE has been found to cause leaks, as well as damage valve internals. In understanding SPE, one fact must be understood: SPE and liquid impingement erosion, though seemingly alike, are very dif- ferent. Heymann 7 stated

It might easily be assumed that solid particle erosion would have many similarities to liquid impingement erosion, since both involve the impact of small, discrete bodies. This is not the case, however, because the damage mechanisms, the ef- fects of impact variables, and the response of materials are all quite different.

Although SPE has been studied extensively over the past 50 years, there are still areas of technical controversy remaining 8 . This is not surprising, as there are a large number of variables. For convenience, these variables have been divided into three broad categories 2 as

• impingement variables including particle velocity, angle of incidence, particle concentration, and particle rotational speed

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• particle variables including particle shape, size, hardness, and friability i.e., the ease of fracture

• material variables—all material properties including, hard- ness, work hardening behavior, and microstructure

3 Conclusion

This technical brief has summarized the erosive mechanisms that have been found in nuclear power plants. EPRI is conducting research in this area to improve the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants.


The authors acknowledge the members of the CHECWORKS™ Users Group who have contributed to EPRI’s efforts in this area.


1 Chexal, B., Horowitz, J., Dooley, B., Millett, P., Wood, C., Jones, R., Boucha- court, M., Remy, F., Nordmann, F., Saint Paul, P., and Kastner, W., 1998,

Journal of Pressure Vessel Technology

“Flow-Accelerated Corrosion in Power Plants,” EPRI, Palo Alto, CA, EPRI Report No. TR-106611-R1. 2 2004, “Recommendations for Controlling Cavitation, Flashing, Liquid Droplet Impingement, and Solid Particle Erosion in Nuclear Power Plant Piping Sys- tems,” EPRI, Palo Alto, CA, Report No. 1011231. 3 Wilby Associates, 1993, “A Method to Predict Cavitation and the Extent of Damage in Power Plant Piping,” Dec., EPRI Report Nos. TR-103198-T1 and


4 Ozol, J., 1987, “Experiences With Control Valve Cavitation Problems and Their Solutions,” EPRI Power Plant Valves Symposium, Kansas City, MO, Aug. 25–26, EPRI Paper No. CS/NP-5878-SR. 5 McCloskey, T. H., Dooley, R. B., and McNaughton, W. P., 1999, “Turbine Steam Path Damage: Theory and Practice—Volume 2: Damage Mechanisms,” EPRI, Palo Alto, CA, EPRI Report No. TR-108943-V2. 6 Kosel, T. H., 1992, “Solid Particle Erosion,” ASM Handbook: Friction, Lubri- cation, and Wear Technology, Vol. 18, ASM International, Metals Park, OH. 7 Heymann, F., 1992, “Liquid Impingement Erosion,” ASM Handbook: Friction, Lubrication, and Wear Technology, Vol. 18, ASM International, Metals Park, OH. 8 Mills, D., 1991, “Pipeline Wear,” Encyclopedia of Chemical Processing and Design, J. J. McKettta and W. A. Cunningham, eds., Marcel Dekker, New York.

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