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High-level radioactive wastes generated during the processing of nuclear materials are kept in large underground storage tanks made of low-carbon steel. The wastes consist primarily of concentrated solutions of sodium nitrate and sodium hydroxide. Each of the tanks is equipped with a purge ventilation system designed to continuously remove hydrogen gas and vapors without letting radionuclides escape. Several intergranular cracks were discovered in the vent pipe of one such system. The pipe, made of galvanized steel sheet, connects to an exhaust fan downstream of high-efficiency particulate air filters. The failure analysis investigation concluded that nitrate-induced stress-corrosion cracking was the cause of the failure.

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