Dissimilar Metal Welds (DMW) are commonly found between the ferritic low alloy steel heavy section components and the austenitic stainless steel piping sections in nuclear power plants. In the EPR™ design which is the latest FRAMATOME Pressurized water reactor (PWR) these DMW involve a narrow gap technology with no buttering, and only one bead per layer of a nickel base alloy weld filler metal (Alloy 52).
In order to assess the thermal aging performance of this relatively new narrow gap DMW design, a significant internal R&D program was launched some years ago. Several representative mock-ups were thoroughly characterized in the initial condition as well as in the thermal aged condition, up to 50,000 hours aging at 350°C. The characterisations were focused on the fusion line between the ferritic low alloy steel (LAS) and the nickel base alloy since a particular microstructure is present in this area, especially in the carbon depleted area of the Heat Affected Zone (HAZ) which is often regarded as the weak zone of the weld joint. Metallography, hardness, nanohardness, chemical analyses, and Atom Probe Tomography, as well as fracture toughness tests were carried out on different specimens in different thermal aging conditions. The results show that the fracture toughness behaviour in the ductile-brittle domain of the low alloy steel carbon depleted HAZ at the interface with the alloy 52 weld metal of the DMWs is excellent, even for a thermal ageing equivalent to 60 years at service temperature. This was found in spite of the carbon depleted zone of the HAZ, the variations of hardness, chemical composition, particularly the carbon gradients, and the thermal aging effect induced by phosphorous segregation at grain boundaries.