The hydrogen normally dissolved in reactor coolant does not have any detectable direct effect
upon the corrosion rate of the iron and steels exposed to reactor coolant. It does, however, have
an important indirect effect by preventing the accumulation of dissolved oxygen in reactor
coolant, which would accelerate corrosion. Dissolved oxygen reacts with the protective
hydrogen gas layer at the cathode to form water.
The condition and composition of the metal surfaces affects the corrosion rate. Deposits, scale,
or irregular surfaces create areas on the metal where local corrosion can initiate and proceed at
a faster rate than normal. Certain alloys of metals have higher corrosion resistance than others,
as discussed in the Material Science Handbook.
When iron or steel is exposed to high temperature water, the rate of corrosion of the metal is
observed to decrease with exposure time during the early period of exposure. After a few
thousand hours, the corrosion rate becomes relatively constant at a low value. During the early
period of exposure, while the corrosion rate is decreasing, the oxide film on the surface of the
metal grows in thickness. However, the rate at which the film grows decreases with time. The
thickness of the oxide film soon reaches a relatively constant value, and thereafter film thickness
does not change appreciably with further exposure. As might be expected, a relatively constant
corrosion rate and oxide film thickness are attained at about the same time. Because a tightly
adhering corrosion film inhibits further corrosion, great care is taken during the initial fill of
reactor plants to promote formation of the best possible corrosion film. This process, referred
to as pretreatment, or pickling, involves careful control of reactor coolant water chemistry and
temperature during the pretreatment period.
Prevention Chemistry Control
Plant chemistry is used to control corrosion. The type of corrosion determines the method used
for preventing or minimizing the corrosion rate.
Passivators and Inhibitors
Passivation is the condition where a naturally active metal corrodes at a very low rate,
probably due to an oxide coating or an absorbed layer of oxygen. Some chemical
substances, called passivators or inhibitors, if added to water, can provide this type of
passivation by undergoing reduction at the metal surface. A common inhibitor is
The use of cathodic protection, supplying an external electric current to the iron so that
it acts as a cathode and has no anodic areas, is another method of preventative chemical
control. This can be accomplished by the use of an external voltage source or by the use
of a sacrificial anode (e.g., zinc) which will corrode and provide the current.