Direct Experimental Evidence for Differing Reactivity Alterations of Minerals following Irradiation: The Case of Calcite and Quartz

I Pignatelli and A Kumar and KG Field and B Wang and YT Yu and Y Le Pape and M Bauchy and G Sant, SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 6, 20155 (2016).

DOI: 10.1038/srep20155

Concrete, used in the construction of nuclear power plants (NPPs), may be exposed to radiation emanating from the reactor core. Until recently, concrete has been assumed immune to radiation exposure. Direct evidence acquired on Ar+-ion irradiated calcite and quartz indicates, on the contrary, that, such minerals, which constitute aggregates in concrete, may be significantly altered by irradiation. More specifically, while quartz undergoes disordering of its atomic structure resulting in a near complete lack of periodicity, calcite only experiences random rotations, and distortions of its carbonate groups. As a result, irradiated quartz shows a reduction in density of around 15%, and an increase in chemical reactivity, described by its dissolution rate, similar to a glassy silica. Calcite however, shows little change in dissolution rate - although its density noted to reduce by approximate to 9%. These differences are correlated with the nature of bonds in these minerals, i.e., being dominantly ionic or covalent, and the rigidity of the mineral's atomic network that is characterized by the number of topological constraints (n(c)) that are imposed on the atoms in the network. The outcomes have major implications on the durability of concrete structural elements formed with calcite or quartz bearing aggregates in nuclear power plants.

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