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A novel protocol to recycle zirconium from zirconium alloy cladding from used nuclear fuel rods

Publication Type
Journal Name
Journal of Nuclear Materials
Publication Date
Page Numbers
154339 to 154339

A potential new zirconium recycling protocol has been demonstrated using unirradiated Zircaloy-based claddings and depleted uranium oxide for the chemical removal of zirconium alloy cladding in used nuclear fuel (UNF) rods from light water reactors. This protocol is based on the application of three new scientific findings. First, a new lower temperature chlorination reaction of zirconium with sulfur monochloride is described. Second, the high solubility of zirconium chloride in thionyl chloride is used to separate it from uranium oxide fuel and fission and activation contaminants. Finally, in the third step, the zirconium chloride is purified by simple recrystallization from thionyl chloride. Utilizing sulfur chloride solvents for a lower temperature liquid-based chemical digestion and purification of zirconium alloy claddings reduces technical complications experienced by current high temperature gas phase chlorination strategies, such as contamination of product streams. This novel protocol has been demonstrated on a 3–50 g scale of unirradiated zirconium alloy, with no significant change in the time required for complete chlorination (3–4 h). This zirconium chlorination protocol has also been performed in the presence of depleted uranium oxide pellets. The depleted fuel pellets do not affect zirconium chlorination, and the chlorination protocol does not chemically or physically alter the fuel pellets. A preliminary description of an industrial protocol to recycle nuclear grade zirconium from UNF rods is presented.