Russia’s Angarsk ElectroChemical Combine to start new enrichment project

8 December 2023

Russia’s Angarsk ElectroChemical Combine (AECC in Irkutsk) will begin enriching uranium hexafluoride supplied by the Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC in Seversk) in 2024. Both are part of Rosatom’s fuel company TVEL. AECC Director Vyacheslav Glushenkov said the plant was currently processing its tailing dumps to extracting additional uranium. The plant extracts uranium-235 for re-use in nuclear fuel from the depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUHF) stored on site.

AECC was established in 1957 to undertake uranium enrichment and conversion. Two buildings (802 and 804) which housed gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment facilities were shut down in 1987 and 1990, after Russia switched to gas centrifuge technology and are now being decommissioned. Conversion activities ceased in 2014 after TVEL in 2011 began implementing a programme to concentrate Russian conversion capacities at the SCC. Since December 2014 AECC has focused on extracting uranium-235 stored DUHF. The remaining product is sent for further processing to the Electrochemical Plant Production Association.

The existing DUHF reserves at AECC will provide raw materials until 2035. “But starting next year we will also have raw materials from the Siberian Chemical Combine,” said Glushenkov. He noted that the plant continues to decommission structures where conversion production waste is stored. "These are ten vaults. Since 2020, we have begun to eliminate them. Four storage facilities have already been completely cleaned out, all radioactive waste has been extracted, processed, and the processed products have been sent to the National Operator for Radioactive Waste Management. We plan to completely liquidate the remaining six storage facilities by the end of 2027,” he noted.

While the main activity of AECC remains the production of enriched uranium hexafluoride, the company is also developing new non-nuclear business areas. In March 2021 it launched a pilot plant for the production of battery-quality lithium hydroxide for export targeting manufacturers of lithium-ion battery components. AECC expects to complete development of the lithium hydroxide production technology for further industrial production by 2024, said Glushenkov.

“We are currently finalising the production technology [at the pilot plant launched in 2021] and plan to finally reach the necessary conditions within the next year to move to industrial production,” he said. He added that “battery-quality products” had been produced at the pilot plant which was being sold to 20 companies. AECC Deputy General Director for Development Oleg Osipenko confirmed the plant’s previously announced plans to launch industrial production of lithium hydroxide in 2027 with a capacity of 10,000 tonnes a year.

“But conceptually, we assume that this production will expand to 20 thousand tonnes by 2032,” Osipenko said, noting that the plant will provide raw materials for those Russian enterprises planning to manufacture lithium batteries

According to Glushenkov, by the end of 2023, AECC expects revenue to increase by RUB7.6bn ($82.5m) compared with 2022. The share of non-nuclear production is expected to be 15%. The plant’s strategy assumes that by 2030, revenue will grow to RUB50bn from its non-nuclear production, its main business of uranium enrichment and the decommissioning of nuclear and radiation hazardous facilities.

Image: Containers of uranium hexafluoride at UECP (courtesy of AECC)

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