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Surface Response of Tungsten to Helium and Hydrogen Plasma Flux as a Function of Temperature and Incident Kinetic Energy

  • Author(s): Sefta, Faiza
  • Advisor(s): Peterson, Per
  • et al.

Tungsten is a leading candidate material for the diverter in future nuclear fusion reactors. Previous experiments have demonstrated that surface defects and bubbles form in tungsten when ex- posed to helium and hydrogen plasmas, even at modest ion energies. In some regimes, between 1000K and 2000K, and for He energies below 100eV, "fuzz" like features form. The mechanisms leading to these surfaces comprised of nanometer sized tungsten tendrils which include visible helium bubbles are not currently known. The role of helium bubble formation in tendril morphology could very likely be the starting point of these mechanisms. Using Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, the role of helium and hydrogen exposure in the initial formation mechanisms of tungsten "fuzz" are investigated. Molecular dynamics simulations are well suited to describe the time and length scales associated with initial formation of helium clusters that eventually grow to nano-meter sized helium bubbles. MD simulations also easily enable the modeling of a variety of surfaces such as single crystals, grain boundaries or "tendrils".

While the sputtering yield of tungsten is generally low, previous observations of surface modification due to plasma exposure raise questions about the effects of surface morphology and sub-surface helium bubble populations on the sputtering behavior. Results of computational molecular dynamics are reported that investigate the influence of sub-surface helium bubble distributions on the sputtering yield of tungsten (100) and (110) surfaces induced by helium ion exposure in the range of 300 eV to 1 keV. The calculated sputtering yields are in reasonable agreement with a wide range of experimental data; but do not show any significant variation as a result of the pre-existing helium bubbles.

Molecular dynamics simulations reveal a number of sub-surface mechanisms leading to nanometer- sized "fuzz" in tungsten exposed to low-energy helium plasmas. We find that during the bubble formation process, helium clusters create self-interstitial defect clusters in tungsten by a trap mutation process, followed by the migration of these defects to the surface that leads to the formation of layers of adatom islands on the tungsten surface. As the helium clusters grow into nanometer sized bubbles, their proximity to the surface and extremely high gas pressures can cause them to rupture the surface thus enabling helium release. Helium bubble bursting induces additional surface damage and tungsten mass loss which varies depending on the nature of the surface. We then show tendril-like geometries have surfaces that are more resilient to helium clustering and bubble formation and rupture. Finally, the study includes hydrogen to reveal the effect of a mixed 90%H-10%He plasma mix on the tungsten surface. We find that hydrogen greatly affects the tungsten surface, with a near surface hydrogen saturation layer, and that helium clusters still form and are attractive trapping sites for hydrogen.

Molecular dynamics simulations have also investigated the effect of sub-surface helium bubble evolution on tungsten surface morphology. The helium bubble/tungsten surface interaction has been systematically studied to determine how parameters such as bubble shape and size, temperature, tungsten surface orientation and ligament thickness above the bubble impact bubble stability and surface evolution. The tungsten surface is roughened by a combination of adatom islands, craters and pinholes. The study provides insight into the mechanisms and conditions leading to various tungsten topology changes, most notably the formation of nanoscale fuzz.

An atomistic study of the mechanisms behind initial phases of tungsten nano-fuzz growth has determined that tungsten surfaces are affected by sub-displacement energy helium and hydrogen fluxes through a series of mechanisms. Sub-surface helium atom clustering, bubble nucleation, growth and rupture lead to tungsten surface deformation. Helium clustering processes vary near grain boundaries or in tendril-like surface geometries. In the presence of hydrogen, these mechanisms are coupled with hydrogen surface saturation. Finally, further investigation to connect these atomistic mechanisms to nano-size tungsten fuzz growth is needed to get a comprehensive under- standing of the effects of low energy helium and hydrogen on tungsten.

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