US resumes uranium separation

29 August 2016

The First Cycle facility for separating uranium from used research reactor fuel at the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina has restarted and will provide uranium for use in new fuel for NPPs.

The facility at the SRS H Canyon chemical separations plant will separate highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from used US and foreign research reactor fuel.

It is the fourth out of five facilities to restart since 2013, and will enable SRS to process 1,000 bundles of used fuel and 200 High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) cores. The fifth and final facility - which downblends the separated HEU to low-enriched uranium (LEU) by mixing it with natural uranium - has yet to be restarted. Management of SRS is carried out on behalf of the DOE by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, a partnership between Fluor, Newport News Nuclear and Honeywell.

DOE assistant manager for nuclear material stabilization, Patrick McGuire, said disposition of the bundles and HFIR cores is expected to be completed in 2024. H Canyon was built in the early 1950s, in the early years of the nuclear weapons programme. It began operations in 1955 and is The US’s only operating production-scale, radiologically shielded chemical separations facility. Historically, H-Canyon recovered uranium-235 and neptunium-237 from aluminium-clad enriched uranium fuel. It was also able to recover neptunium-237 and plutonium-238 from special irradiated targets, and played a vital role up to 2008 in the production of the plutonium-238 used to power numerous deep space exploration programmes. In more recent years, the facility has continued to treat nuclear materials as part of DOE's environmental management programme. 

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