October 25, 2023

Dose Rate Effects on Degradation of Nuclear Power Plant Electrical Cable Insulation at a Common Dose


The intent of this report is to address an identified knowledge gap in relating accelerated aging of nuclear electrical cables to service aging: dose rate effects (DRE). Here, DRE refer to gamma radiation-induced polymer degradation being a function of dose rate in addition to total absorbed dose. The concern raised is that historical qualification conducted at higher dose rates to simulate service lifetime may underestimate insulation degradation that occurs at lower dose rates in service. In the work described herein, common nuclear cable insulation materials—cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) and ethylene propylene diene elastomer (EPDM)—were subjected to accelerated aging at ambient temperature (26°C) at different gamma dose rates of 100, 200 and 1800 Gy/h for select exposure durations to achieve constant total doses of 170, 210 and 300 kGy to evaluate DRE. First, the cable insulation material types investigated are described. Then, the accelerated aging experimental process involving gamma irradiation applied to the insulation specimens at room temperature and different dose rates is discussed. Then, the experimental characterization techniques used to perform this work are elucidated. These include elongation at break (EAB), mass change, yellowness index (YI), carbonyl index (CI), density, indenter modulus (IM), and relaxation constant (t). Theory of polymer degradation is discussed, and characterization results and discussion are provided. Finally, concluding remarks are made. The findings from this work and cited prior work reveal that DRE are material dependent, even between similar material categories (e.g., XLPE). In the case of the EPDM studied, degradation of ductility was observed to be greater at higher dose rate for the same total dose, indicating accelerated gamma aging to be more conservative than extended aging. Thus, conclusions regarding the conservatism of historical qualification likely require additional consideration for specific materials and conditions in question. The results of this study support the contention that, due to inherent limitations and uncertainties associated with prediction of cable remaining useful life from accelerated aging experiments, trending of installed cable insulation health status will be more practical and useful for safe and efficient cable aging management repair and replace decisions than lifetime prediction from historical qualification. The combination of material robustness demonstrated by the qualification process and ongoing monitoring of cable health status combine to provide confidence in continued safe use of existing nuclear cables. Additional research into effective and efficient condition monitoring methods for non-destructive evaluation of installed cables is needed to support aging cable management, including material studies to inform interpretation of measured results.

Published: October 25, 2023


Elen M., M.K. Hasan, D. Li, Y. Ni, M.P. Spencer, M.T. Murphy, and A. Zwoster, et al. 2023. Dose Rate Effects on Degradation of Nuclear Power Plant Electrical Cable Insulation at a Common Dose Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.