New and advanced methodologies have been developed to characterize the nano and microstructure of cement paste and concrete exposed to aggressive environments. High resolution full-field soft X-ray imaging in the water window is providing new insight on the nano scale of the cement hydration process, which leads to a nano-optimization of cement-based systems. Hard X-ray microtomography images of ice inside cement paste and cracking caused by the alkali-silica reaction (ASR) enables three-dimensional structural identification. The potential of neutron diffraction to determine reactive aggregates by measuring their residual strains and preferred orientation is studied. Results of experiments using these tools are shown on this paper. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.