In line with plans to reduce its stockpile of depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUHF), a waste produce to uranium enrichment, enterprises of Russia’s Fuel Company TVEL (part of state nuclear corporation Rosatom) plans to build a new facility for the treatment of DUHF. The Central Design and Technological Institute (TSPI) and the Ural Electrochemical Plant (UECP) in Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk Region) had signed an agreement for the development a project to create a W-EHF facility in Novouralsk for defluorination of DUHF.
As part of the study of the project, TSPI will prepare a declaration of intent to invest in construction, carry out a set of engineering surveys, and also prepare a feasibility study for the establishment of the W-EHF processing facility at the UECP site, similar to the technological process of the W-ECP unit already operating at the Electrochemical Plant (ECP) in Zelenogorsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory. The plant, commissioned in 2009, uses Areva NC technology and the pyrohydrolysis method to convert the depleted hex (UF6) into hydrofluoric acid and U3O8, which can be used to produce fuel for fast neutron reactors.
The W-ECP plant, based on French technology converts DUHF, an unstable waste product of uranium enrichment, into the more stable uranium oxide-oxide through a process of defluorination. It processes 10,000 tons a year. The successful experience in operating the first W-ECP plant led to a decision to install a second W2-ECP plant and a contract to that effect contract was signed with French company Orano Projets at the end of 2019. The launch of the second installation, scheduled for 2023, will increase the capacity of the processing plant from 10,000 to 20,000 a year.
DUHF is formed as a result of uranium enrichment (in the form of hexafluoride - UF6). Defluorination transforms DUHF to a chemically safe state - depleted uranium oxide - in the form of a powder, which can be stored for a long time in open areas without risks to the environment. The depleted uranium oxide is also used for the production of uranium-plutonium mox fuel for the BN-800 fast breeder reactor.
The depleted uranium, which has a high density and high melting point, can be used in other industries. In particular, in the production of screens for medical equipment for protection against X-ray and gamma radiation, counterweights and gyroscopes in aircraft and shipbuilding, catalysts for some chemical reactions, etc. anhydrous hydrogen fluoride - sold on the market as a commercial product of the chemical industry.
Over 10 years the W-ECP has processed more than 100,000 tons of DUHF at ECP. Hydrofluoric products have been certified and successfully introduced to the market. Since 2011, more than 52,000 tons of hydrofluoric acid and more than 10,000 tons of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride have been shipped to consumers. ECP also takes DUHF from other Russian enterprises for processing, including the Angarsk Electrochemical Combine. The start up of W2-ECP and the establishment of a similar, Russian designed W-EHF plant at UECP will significantly increase Russia’s capacity to process DUFH. To date, Russia has accumulated an estimated 1 million tons of DUHF, much of which is packed in steel containers and stored in outdoor platforms at the enrichment plants.