REFINE: a coordinated materials programme for the sustainable REduction of spent Fuel vital In a closed loop Nuclear Energy cycle

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Chem Eng and Analytical Science

Abstract

Nuclear fission is currently internationally recognised as a key low carbon energy source, vital in the fight against global warming, which has stimulated much interest and recent investment. For example, RCUK's energy programme has identified nuclear fission as an essential part of the "trinity" of future fuel options for the UK, alongside renewables and clean coal. However, nuclear energy is controversial, with heartfelt opinion both for and against, and there is a real requirement to make it cleaner and greener. Large international programmes of work are needed to deliver safe, reliable, economic and sustainable nuclear energy on the scale required in both the short and long term, through Gen III+ & Gen IV reactor systems. A pressing worldwide need is the development of specific spent fuel reprocessing technology suitable for these new reactors (as well as for dealing with legacy waste fuel from old reactors).

The REFINE programme will assemble a multidisciplinary team across five partner universities and NNL, the UK's national nuclear laboratory to address this fuel reprocessing issue. The consortium will carry out a materials research programme to deliver fuel reprocessing by developing materials electrosynthesis through direct oxide reduction and selective electrodissolution and electroplating from molten salt systems. Developing, optimising and controlling these processes will provide methods for, and a fundamental understanding of, how best to reprocess nuclear fuel. This is in addition to the development of techniques for new molten salt systems, new sensing and analysis technologies and the establishment of the kinetics and mechanisms by which molten salt processes occur. This will facilitate rapid process development and optimization, as well as the generation of applications in related areas.

A key output of the programme will be the training and development of the multidisciplinary UK researchers required to make possible clean nuclear energy and generate complementary scientific and technological breakthroughs.
 
Description The feasibility to convert uranium carbide into a soluble form in a chloride melt by electrochemical means has been proven. The can allow for the recycle of carbide nuclear fuels where aqueous methods are not viable. The molten salts behaviour of related carbide materials that are likely to used as cladding material for these fuels has also been explored, thus providing a body of fundamental information that may lead to the development of a process for treating and recycling this novel type of nuclear fuel. The use of in situ UV-visible spectroscopy as an analytical tool to probe high temperature molten salt composition has been assessed for pyroprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Although uranium concentrations may be readily assessed by UV-visible probes in molten salts, all other elemental constituents of spent fuel are unlikely to be quantitatively analysed by this approach. A consistent method has been developed to produce uranium in chloride melts delivering a consistent and reliable approach to support further research.
Exploitation Route This information may help develop a flowsheet for the implementation of carbide fuels in nuclear reactors (particularly fast reactors) where the high burn of such fuels may preclude the use of established hydrometallurgical processes. Such fuels have been investigated for their accident tolerance but as a result their compatibility with spent nuclear fuel recycling methods is not clear. Instrumentation for on-line monitoring of pyroprocesses may include UV-visible spectroscopic probes for uranium concentration assessments.
Sectors Energy

 
Description Some of the findings with regards to redox potentials and speciation have been used to inform designs for proposed molten salt nuclear fission reactors (e.g Moltex Energy).
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Invited member of the Department of BEIS Molten Salts Advisory Group
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme - Pyroprocessing
Amount £774,982 (GBP)
Organisation National Nuclear Laboratory 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 06/2021
 
Description DAWNMANTLE - Decontamination and waste minimisation strategies for and using advanced molten salt nuclear technologies
Amount £381,040 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S033009/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2019 
End 08/2022
 
Description Mechanisms of Retention and Transport of Fission Products in Virgin and Irradiated Nuclear Graphite
Amount £368,356 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R00577X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 11/2020
 
Description Radiochemical Facilities for the Molten Salts in Nuclear Technologies Laboratory
Amount £2,330,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T011386/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2019 
End 03/2023
 
Description Collaboration with Moltex Energy Ltd 
Organisation Moltex Energy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Providing research facilities and training to support development of personnel and direct research supporting molten salt reactor design, supporting supply chains and materials management optioneering.
Collaborator Contribution Potential to industrialise research findings and connections with industrial/international collaborators such as Canada National Laboratory.
Impact Studentship project has recently commenced from this partnership. Collaboration brings together chemical engineering, chemistry and materials science.
Start Year 2020
 
Description KAIST-DAWNMANTLE 
Organisation Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
Country Korea, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Studies on the contamination processes of stainless steel in molten salt process operations. Particle irradiation of stainless steel materials to mimic likely the likely radiation exposure of such materials in various nuclear operations. Preparation of materials to be used to decontamination testing. All as part of the Dawnmantle consortium supported by EPSRC (UK) and NRF (Korea) through the UK-ROK Civil Nuclear partnership.
Collaborator Contribution Studies on the development of Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy to monitor molten salt compositions. Effluent treatment of possible associated waste streams from molten salt operations. All as part of the Dawnmantle consortium supported by EPSRC (UK) and NRF (Korea) through the UK-ROK Civil Nuclear partnership.
Impact J. T. M. Amphlett, S. Choi, S. A. Parry, E. M. Moon, C. A. Sharrad and M. D. Ogden, Insights on uranium uptake mechanisms by ion exchange resins with chelating functionalities: Chelation vs. anion exchange, Chem. Eng. J (2020) 392, 123712. DOI: 10.1016/j.cej.2019.123712 Multidisciplinary: Chemistry, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, Analytical Science
Start Year 2019
 
Description Ulsan - Dawnmantle 
Organisation Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology
Country Korea, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Studies on the contamination processes of stainless steel in molten salt process operations. Particle irradiation of stainless steel materials to mimic likely the likely radiation exposure of such materials in various nuclear operations. Preparation of materials to be used to decontamination testing.
Collaborator Contribution Preparation of steel materials to mimic exposure in reactor operations.
Impact Multidisciplinary - Chemistry, Materials, Chemical Engineering
Start Year 2019
 
Description Molten Salts in Nuclear Technology Laboratory 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Promotion of the Molten Salts in Nuclear Technology Laboratory National Nuclear User Facility to the molten salt user community represented by the Royal Society of Chemistry Molten Salts and Ionic Liquids Discussion Group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Visit to Shanghai Insitute of Applied Physics 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A memorandum of understanding has since been signed between the University of Manchester and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics to encourage the exchange of information and develop research collaborations between the parties particularly in the areas of molten salt technologies applied to nuclear and nuclear graphite management.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017