A new isotope enrichment process with eventual application to uranium has been announced by a South African company. It represents a revival of an historic project, never thought to be commercially viable.
Hendrik Strydom of Klydon Pty Ltd outlined the genesis and uranium aspirations of his company's technology. The founding members of Klydon previously held senior positions within the SA Atomic Energy Corporation (now the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, Necsa).
South Africa's home-grown Helikon Z-plant in the early 1980s was developed to supply the Koeberg nuclear power plant during an era of trade sanctions and was not commercially oriented. It was extremely energy intensive, using some some 10,000 kWh for each separative work unit of enrichment.
The Aerodynamic Separation Process (ASP) now being developed by Klydon in South Africa employs similar so-called 'stationary-wall' centrifuges with uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas injected tangentially. It has not yet been tested on UF6 – only light isotopes such as oxygen, carbon and silicon. However, extrapolating from results so far, it is expected to have an enrichment factor in each unit of 1.10 (cf 1.03 in Helikon) using less than 1000 kWh per SWU.
The company aims to develop the technology to achieve an enrichment factor of 1.15 for less than 500 kWh per SWU (other commercially-used centrifuges are about one tenth of this). Projections for ASP give an enrichment cost under $100/SWU, with this split evenly among capital, operation and energy input, making it a very low-cost technology in respect to capital, and with very small modules being economic.
The company says that it should be economic to re-enrich some of the 1.2 million tonnes of depleted uranium tails using the ASP. Klydon's Element 92 division is focused on uranium prospects, while its stable isotopes division is concerned with silicon-28, zirconium-90 and medical isotopes.