Structural integrity of the reactor pressure vessel of pressurized water reactors is one of the key safety issues in nuclear power operation. Integrity may be jeopardized during operational transients. The problem is compounded by radiation damage of the vessel structural materials. Structural integrity assessment as an interdisciplinary field is primarily based on materials science and fracture mechanics. The paper gives an overview on the service induced damage processes and associated changes of mechanical properties, the prediction of degradation and the assessment of the entire component against brittle fracture with a special focus on how the evolution of materials science and engineering has contributed to reactor vessel structural integrity assessment.