US uranium conversion company ConverDyn and enrichment company Urenco USA have jointly announced the formation of a new partnership aiming to provide services to help manage stocks of depleted uranium.
The two companies say they have created the Competitive American Tails Upgrade Partnership (CATUP) to be able to respond to potential interest from the US Department of Energy (DoE) in upgrading and managing stocks of depleted uranium.
The enrichment process increases the proportion of fissile uranium-235 in uranium used for the manufacture of nuclear fuel but creates a byproduct of material depleted in uranium-235, known as tails. This material can be used in applications such as blending down ex-military high-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel use or blending with plutonium to make mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, or for uses exploiting its very high density, but in practice, most is currently kept in storage at enrichment plants around the world.
According to the CATUP partners, DoE may be interested in pursuing a long term "commercial upgrade" program as part of its uranium inventory management policy following on from a successful 2005 pilot program, in which over 8000 tonnes of depleted uranium was treated. The partnership intends to be ready to offer its services.
CATUP's plan is to use the two companies' existing US conversion and enrichment facilities, in combination with its inventories of natural uranium concentrates, to recover usable material from DoE's depleted uranium while reducing the volume of depleted uranium that will ultimately need to be disposed of. The companies say they are prepared to start work immediately.
The partnership envisages converting natural uranium concentrates into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at ConverDyn's Metropolis works in Illinois, and then exchanging them for depleted uranium from DoE. CATUP will then sample, clean and repackage DoE's depleted uranium for upgrading at Urenco USA's centrifuge enrichment plant in New Mexico. The approach would help to protect US mining interests from "unpredictable and excessive DoE inventory sales," as well as creating local jobs and stimulating capital investment in nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure, the partners say.
DoE's gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment operations gave rise to nearly 700,000 metric tonnes of depleted uranium tails over more than fifty years of operation. In December 2010 the DoE awarded Babcock & Wilcox Conversion Services a five-year $428 million contract to deconvert the depleted UF6 tails into more chemically stable uranium oxide. Meanwhile International Isotopes (INIS) has plans to build and operate a 6500 tonnes per year deconversion plant and fluorine extraction facility in New Mexico, 50 km from Urenco USA's enrichment plant for which it has in place a five-year agreement to provide toll deconversion for tails from 2014.
ConverDyn is a partnership between affiliates of Honeywell and General Atomics and is the exclusive agent for conversion sales from the Metropolis plant, which is owned and operated by Honeywell International.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News