Advanced nuclear plants are designed for long-term operation in quite demanding environments. Limited operation experience with the materials used in such plants necessitate a reliable assessment of damage and residual life of components. Non-destructive condition monitoring of damage is difficult, if not impossible for many materials. Periodic investigation of small samples taken from well defined locations in the plant could provide an attractive tool for damage assessments. This paper will discuss possibilities of using very small samples taken from plant locations for complementary condition monitoring. Techniques such as micro/nano-indentation, micropillar compression, micro bending, small punch and thin strip testing can be used for the determination of local mechanical properties. Advanced preparation techniques such as focused ion beam (FIB) allow the preparation of samples from these small volumes for micro-structural analyses with transmission electron microscope (TEM) and advanced X-ray synchrotron techniques. Modeling techniques (e.g. dislocation dynamics DD) can provide a quantitative link between microstructure and mechanical properties. Using examples from ferritic oxide dispersion strengthened materials the DD approach is highlighted to understand component life assessments.