Dr. Ron Adamson

Fuel Material


Dr. Ron Adamson retired from GE Nuclear Energy in 2000, where he was the manager of Materials Technology at the Vallecitos Nuclear Center. Earlier he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering and a PhD in Metallurgy. Post-doctoral work on irradiation effects was conducted at AERE, Harwell, England. After 4 years at GE Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, he moved to the GE Vallecitos Nuclear Center and led research, development and testing programs for reactor core materials, with special emphasis on zirconium alloys.

During his 31 years with GE, Dr. Adamson was actively involved with utilities and the technical community worldwide. He holds 17 patents, has published over 100 technical papers involving nuclear materials technology, and has received several important awards, including the Outstanding Technical Contribution Award from GE Industrial Power Systems, the Mishima Award from the American Nuclear Society, and the Kroll Medal from the ASTM/Kroll Institute. Zirconium alloy areas in which Dr. Adamson has particular interest and experience include: in-reactor dimensional stability; in-reactor corrosion performance and mechanisms; microstructure evolution due to reactor irradiation; mechanical properties of irradiated material; high burnup performance; failure mechanisms and remedies; and fabrication technology. Since retirement he has been actively associated with A.N.T. International, EPRI and others as a consultant in zirconium technology.

How did you get introduced to the ZIRAT program?

My initial exposure to ZIRAT was way back in 1998 when I was still with GE Nuclear. Al Strasser asked me to give a lecture describing the axial split secondary degradation problem in cladding to the ZIRAT 3 US group of utility members. Since our GE Vallecitos group had done a lot of good work in that area, I was pleased to do it. And I noted that the utility people very much appreciated getting a relatively unbiased material performance view. And I liked doing it. So when I retired in 2000 and Peter Rudling asked me to join ZIRAT, I eagerly accepted. Now, 15 years later I am proud to be working with what I consider to be a “dream team” of experts in the nuclear materials area. At one time we were all competitors, but now we are friends and colleagues.

How did you get started as a metallurgical engineer?

As a youngster I was always interested in science and sports. So when it came time for college my goal was to get a football scholarship at a university with a good engineering school. I decided on the U. of Wisconsin. I started in Mechanical Engineering and discovered metallurgy only in my senior year. Then I did a liquid metal embrittlement thesis for a Masters in Nuclear Engineering and continued with an irradiation effects thesis for a PhD in Metallurgical Engineering. That led me to some basic radiation damage work at Harwell in England and eventually to a real job at GE-KAPL to do irradiation effects studies in zirconium alloys, about which I knew nothing! Then came a really wonderful job at GE Vallecitos Nuclear Center working on a range of nuclear reactor materials issues, mainly concerned with Zircaloy and zirconium.

How has the nuclear materials field changed during your career, and how does ZIRAT fit in?

The challenge and reward of nuclear materials work is that it is all very high tech and uses all the science and engineering disciplines. When I started at Vallecitos, we had the resources to take us through the whole scientific-method sequence. But, alas! the business was losing money. Today the nuclear businesses are making money, but the resources in terms of people and programs are limited. That’s where I think ZIRAT comes in. As a dream team we can read and analyse the literature; write “white papers” on special topics of interest; provide training in the basics of material behaviour – all areas where commercial organisations no longer have the resources or expertise to do on their own. And we enjoy doing it!

You are supposed to be retired. How do you spend your leisure time?

The ZIRAT work is fun for me. But Alta Jo and I also have a wonderful family who all live within walking distance, and we spend a lot of time together. And I still write and perform folk-blues songs, sing in my church choir, play golf and softball, bike a lot, do medical-bioethics at the local hospital, and travel to Africa as often as possible to join animal research projects. Yes, retirement is good.