Project Synopsis

Provide a preliminary conceptual process design and process alternatives evaluation to a metals processor for the conversion of uranium trioxide to uranium metal in support of future plans to potentially produce nuclear fuels for light water reactors.

Project Summary

Uranium Metal Conversion Facility Conceptual Design Study

Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) was contracted by the client, a private sector specialty metals processor, to provide a preliminary conceptual design for a process to convert uranium trioxide (UO3) to uranium metal (U).  The client is anticipating a future need for advanced light water nuclear reactor (LWR) fuel in either a U metal or U alloy format with enrichments up to 19.75 wt% U235.  As the client and their parent company operate the only commercial facilities in the United States that are currently licensed to process fuel above 5 wt%, they are interested in exploring what it would take to be in a position to support all companies building LWRs by providing their desired fuel.  This involves providing new process facilities, or expanding the client’s existing capabilities, which currently produce low enriched uranium (LEU) trioxide powder for nuclear reactor fuels, to allow the production of LEU metal buttons which can subsequently be formed into fuel rods either directly or as an alloy.  The targeted throughput for this conceptual design is 20 MTU/year.

The scope of the conceptual design started with the receipt of UO3 product from a separate unit operation at the client production facility and included the following major unit operations needed to convert this material into U buttons:

  • Hydrogen reduction of the UO3 to UO2
  • Hydrofluorination of the UO2 to UF4
  • Bomb reduction of the UF4 to uranium metal.

In addition to these primary processes, the supporting operations considered in the conceptual design effort included: offgas treatment, uranium recovery, anhydrous hydrogen fluoride as well as other chemical feed operations, and residue handling.  This conceptual design effort summarized the viable technical alternatives for the three primary process operations and recommended supporting process steps based on industrial experience for similar streams.

Industry Type

  • Nuclear Materials Processing

Utilized Skills

  • Conceptual process design (FEL-1)
  • Design of nuclear processes

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