Shortlisted entries 2012
3. Graphite flakes from a nuclear fuel material
This is a high-magnification microscopy image of a material used to produce some nuclear fuels following corrosion testing. The fuel-matrix material is being tested to see if it can work as part of a ‘nuclear-battery’ – a reactor which is largely self-operating for long periods of time, providing long-term low carbon energy in remote areas. During use the material corrodes in some environments, and understanding how this happens is important in showing that the design is safe to operate as intended. This image shows that, following testing, the material is largely made up of the crushed flakes originally used to produce it, and contains very little of the binder material which holds it all together in use. It suggests that there is a sharp upper-limit on how long fuel could be in a reactor of this type, and helps determine where that limit lies.