Hsiao, Y.-H.; Wang, B.; La Plante, E. C.; Pignatelli, I.; Krishnan, N. M. A.; Le Pape, Y.; Neithalath, N.; Bauchy, M.; Sant, G
npj Mater Degrad 2019, 3 (1), 36.
Publication year: 2019

When exposed to irradiation—e.g., in nuclear power plant environments—minerals may experience alterations in their atomic structure which, in turn, result in changes in their physical and chemical properties. Herein, we mimic via Ar+ implantation the effects of neutron irradiation on calcite (CaCO3) and dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2) – two carbonate minerals that often find use as aggregates in concrete: a material that is extensively used in the construction of critical structural and safety components in nuclear power plants. By a pioneering combination of nanoscale quantifications of mineral dissolution rates (i.e., a proxy for chemical durability) in alkaline solutions, vibrational (infrared and Raman) spectroscopy, and molecular simulations, we find that irradiation minimally affects the atomic structure and properties of these carbonate minerals. This insensitivity to radiation arises from the predominantly ionic nature of the interatomic bonds in these minerals which can relax and recover their initial configuration, thus ensuring minimal damage and permanent alterations to these minerals following radiation exposure. The outcomes have significant implications on the selection, use, and specification of mineral aggregates for use in nuclear concrete construction.