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Spent nuclear fuel recycling with plasma reduction and etching

United States Patent

June 5, 2012
View the Complete Patent at the US Patent & Trademark Office
Los Alamos National Laboratory - Visit the Technology Transfer Division Website
A method of extracting uranium from spent nuclear fuel (SNF) particles is disclosed. Spent nuclear fuel (SNF) (containing oxides of uranium, oxides of fission products (FP) and oxides of transuranic (TRU) elements (including plutonium)) are subjected to a hydrogen plasma and a fluorine plasma. The hydrogen plasma reduces the uranium and plutonium oxides from their oxide state. The fluorine plasma etches the SNF metals to form UF.sub.6 and PuF.sub.4. During subjection of the SNF particles to the fluorine plasma, the temperature is maintained in the range of 1200-2000 deg K to: a) allow any PuF.sub.6 (gas) that is formed to decompose back to PuF.sub.4 (solid), and b) to maintain stability of the UF.sub.6. Uranium (in the form of gaseous UF.sub.6) is easily extracted and separated from the plutonium (in the form of solid PuF.sub.4). The use of plasmas instead of high temperature reactors or flames mitigates the high temperature corrosive atmosphere and the production of PuF.sub.6 (as a final product). Use of plasmas provide faster reaction rates, greater control over the individual electron and ion temperatures, and allow the use of CF.sub.4 or NF.sub.3 as the fluorine sources instead of F.sub.2 or HF.
Kim; Yong Ho (Los Alamos, NM)
The United States of America as represented by the Department of Energy (Washington, DC)
13/ 035,087
February 25, 2011
STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. DE-AC52-06NA25396 between the United States Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos National Security, LLC for the operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory.