Type 304 austenitic stainless steel is the most common tube material utilized for nuclear feedwater heaters, however, some utilities have experienced problems with Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC), especially when they utilize brackish cooling water and have experienced condenser tube leaks. This has forced some utilities to explore other options when it comes to high pressure feedwater heaters (HP FWH) tubing materials. AL6XN® is considered a “super” stainless steel that is resistant to (SCC), however, it is not immune (AL6XN is a trademark of ATI Technologies).
Based on the relative inexperience and unknowns related to the use of AL6XN tubing in high pressure, nuclear feedwater heater applications, a detailed mock-up procedure was outlined as part of the replacement heater specification which would allow the evaluation of the tube to tubesheet joining processes. Since AL6XN can still be affected by SCC; steps were taken in order to minimize the imposed stress levels and any potential for the inadvertent inclusion of contaminants during the fabrication steps at the tube mill and at the feedwater heater Manufacturer’s shop. The desire to minimize stresses also applies at the tube to tubesheet joint, therefore, it was desired not to stress the tube more than absolutely necessary in achieving a reliable, leak tight joint. The mock-up details and procedures were therefore generated with these objectives in mind, so as to give consideration for the ability to check different configurations in order to determine the most efficient tube to tubesheet joining process.
Several tubes in the mock-up were subjected to a pull out test in order to quantify the joint strength in the different configurations. The mockup was then sectioned and inspected under a digital microscope to verify intimate contact between the tube and the tubesheet. Once the optimal procedure was identified, four identical HP FWHs were constructed utilizing AL6XN tubing. During heater production, over 30,000 tube ends were expanded, however, two tubes were identified to have failures as part of the tube expansion process.
This paper shall describe the procedures utilized in developing and analyzing the tubesheet mock-up as well the actions taken to identify the root causes of the tube failures.