Nuclear Science


Recycle & Waste Management

The components of used nuclear fuel represented as percentages of a pie chart.

ORNL fuel cycle studies showed that two components of used nuclear fuel (UNF), uranium and zirconium (in the zircaloy cladding rods), comprise >90% of the mass in the UNF. Recovery and recycle of these components would decrease significantly the amount of high level waste that requires placement in a geologic repository for disposal. Recovered uranium is already being recycled to pressurized water reactors in France and to heavy water reactors in China.

ORNL is now leading an R&D project for DOE to recover/recycle the zirconium. Focus is on a dry, pyrochemical chlorination to form volatile zirconium tetrachloride salt in high purity. ORNL is being assisted by two individual companies, AREVA and Westinghouse, which are leading manufacturers of zircaloy fuel rod tubes and assembly hardware.

For more information, contact:
Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division


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