France’s Orano on 23 December delivered the first batch of equipment to Russia’s Electrochemical Plant (EKhZ – part of Rosatom’s fuel company TVEL) in Zelenogorsk for the construction of a second unit for defluorination of uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) – W2-EKhZ.

In accordance with Rosatom's Programme for the Safe Handling of DUF6, the commissioning of the W2-EKhZ unit will end the accumulation of DUF6 stocks (the tailings from uranium enrichment). This will be possible by increasing the processing capacity of DUF6 to 20,000 tons of DUF6 a year. Completion of the W2-EKhZ unit is planned in 2023.

Units for defluorination of uranium hexafluoride make it possible to convert DUF6 into a chemically safe state – uranium oxide-oxide in the form of a powder. In this form, depleted uranium can be stored for a long time in containers in open areas without any risks to the environment and is completely safe for transportation.

The equipment supplier is the French company Orano Projets and the contract with ECP was signed at the end of 2019. The first 16 trucks, which arrived from France to Eastern Siberia, contain complex equipment for power supply, instrumentation equipment, ventilation and parts of technological pipelines. The delivery of the main equipment is scheduled for the first half of 2022. After construction of the facility building, Russian and French specialists in 2022 will begin the joint installation of technological equipment.

Concrete pouring is continuing at the construction site — about 650 cubic metres have been laid in the body of the monolithic foundation slab. The concrete mixture was poured around the clock. The next step will be the construction of walls and floor slabs. The general contractor for this construction is TVEL-STROY.

Defluorination technologies make it possible to turn the accumulated reserves of depleted uranium into a valuable raw material for the nuclear power industry of the future — depleted uranium is needed to make uranium-plutonium fuel for fast reactors. 

 “The Fuel Division of Rosatom fully fulfils its obligations within the framework of the industry programme for the safe handling of DUF6,” said TVEL President Natalya Nikipelova. “In addition, we are developing the production of new types of uranium-plutonium fuel for fast reactors, which require depleted uranium. The BN-800 reactor of the Beloyarsk NPP is gradually being converted to mox fuel, and a plant for the production of MNUP fuel for the Brest-OD-300 reactor under the Breakthrough project is under construction in Seversk. TVEL actively develops and effectively implements technologies that make it possible to ensure recycling of materials, and to maximise the use of extracted natural resources without increasing the amount of field development.”

Simultaneously with the increase in DUF6 processing capacity, TVEL plans to master the use of hydrofluoric acid in the production of high-tech fluorine-containing products, including fluorides used in electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries.

The sectoral programme for the safe handling of depleted uranium is aimed at slowing down the rate of formation of new uranium tails, and in the future, to phase out all DUF6 stocks accumulated at Russian enrichment enterprises. For this, it is planned to multiply the capacity for defluorinating DUF6 at other TVEL enterprises. From 2027-2028, with the commissioning at the Urals ElectroChemical Combine (UEKhK) of the W-UEKhK units with a capacity of 20,000 tons of DUF6 a year and at EKhZ of W3-EKhZ with a capacity of 10,000 tons a year, a systematic decrease in the volume of DUF6 stocks is planned, and by 2035 the site will be completely free of DUF6.  Other facilities are planned for the Angarsk Chemical Combine  (AEKhK)  and the Siberian Chemical Combine (SKhK) in 2038. The completion of the programme is planned for 2057 with the complete liquidation of DUF6 stocks at all TVEL’s enrichment sites.