Structural dynamics of Schottky and Frenkel defects in ThO2: A density-functional theory study

Samuel Moxon, Jonathan Skelton, Joshua S. Tse, Joseph Flitcroft, A. Togo, David J. Cooke, E. Lora Da Silva, Robert M. Harker, Mark T. Storr, Stephen C. Parker, Marco Molinari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Thorium dioxide (ThO2) is a promising alternative to mixed-oxide nuclear fuels due to its longer fuel cycle and resistance to proliferation. Understanding the thermal properties, in particular the thermal conductivity, under reactor conditions is critical to the success of any candidate fuel material. ThO2 has a higher thermal conductivity and thus a lower operating temperature than other fuel systems. However, the presence of defects in real materials directly influences the structural dynamics and physical properties, and the impact of defects on the properties of ThO2 is largely unexplored. We have employed density-functional theory calculations to study the structure and energetics of the intrinsic Schottky and Frenkel defects in ThO2 and their impact on the thermophysical properties. We identify the anion Frenkel defect to be the most stable, and we identify characteristic spectral signatures of the defects in the phonon dispersions and infrared spectra. We further employ two approximate models to assess the impact of the defects on the thermal transport and find that both types of defect are predicted significantly to reduce the thermal conductivity. The methodology we present facilitates the prediction of the thermophysical and transport properties of defective materials at an atomistic level, and should be readily transferrable to existing and in-development nuclear fuel systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1861-1875
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Materials Chemistry A
Issue number4
Early online date7 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2022


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