Helium interactions with alumina formed by atomic layer deposition show potential for mitigating problems with excess helium in spent nuclear fuel

Shenli Zhang, Erick Yu, Sean Gates, William Cassata, James Makel, Andrew M. Thron, Christopher Bartel, Alan W. Weimer, Roland Faller, Pieter Stroeve, Joseph W. Tringe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Helium gas accumulation from alpha decay during extended storage of spent fuel has potential to compromise the structural integrity the fuel. Here we report results obtained with surrogate nickel particles which suggest that alumina formed by atomic layer deposition can serve as a low volume-fraction, uniformly-distributed phase for retention of helium generated in fuel particles such as uranium oxide. Thin alumina layers may also form transport paths for helium in the fuel rod, which would otherwise be impermeable. Micron-scale nickel particles, representative of uranium oxide particles in their low helium solubility and compatibility with the alumina synthesis process, were homogeneously coated with alumina approximately 3–20 nm by particle atomic layer deposition (ALD) using a fluidized bed reactor. Particles were then loaded with helium at 800 °C in a tube furnace. Subsequent helium spectroscopy measurements showed that the alumina phase, or more likely a related nickel/alumina interface structure, retains helium at a density of at least 1017 atoms/cm3. High resolution transmission electron microscopy revealed that the thermal treatment increased the alumina thickness and generated additional porosity. Results from Monte Carlo simulations on amorphous alumina predict the helium retention concentration at room temperature could reach 1021 atoms/cm3 at 400 MPa, a pressure predicted by others to be developed in uranium oxide without an alumina secondary phase. This concentration is sufficient to eliminate bubble formation in the nuclear fuel for long-term storage scenarios, for example. Measurements by others of the diffusion coefficient in polycrystalline alumina indicate values several orders of magnitude higher than in uranium oxide, which then can also allow for helium transport out of the spent fuel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-311
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Nuclear Materials
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • ALD
  • Alumina
  • Fuel
  • Helium


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