Plans for new deconversion plant kept alive

12 November 2008

US company International Isotopes Inc says that its plans for a new plant to remove fluorine from depleted uranium tails and use it to manufacture high-value fluoride gases can remain on track thanks to funds raised through a private stock placement.


FEP pilot plant 
Control panels in FEP pilot plant (Image: International Isotopes)
The Idaho-based company manufactures nuclear medicine calibration and reference standards and makes high-purity fluoride gases and a variety of cobalt-60 products, as well as supplying radiochemical products and radiological processing services. In June, the company announced plans to build a commercial facility to extract fluorine from depleted uranium tails and to use it to manufacture speciality fluoride gases. 


International Isotopes plans to use its own patented Fluorine Extraction Process (FEP) technology which extracts fluorine from uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) by heating a mixture of UF4 and metal oxide. The metal oxide - germanium, boron, or silicon - then combines with the fluorine to produce fluoride gases. It has been operating an FEP demonstration plant in Idaho since 2005, and plans to build a full-scale facility, which would include a plant to deconvert depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) to the tetrafluoride form (DUF4), the feedstock from which the fluorine would be extracted.


Site selection studies are currently under way and are expected to be concluded before the end of 2008, with the first phase of plant construction, consisting of a larger FEP pilot plant, slated to begin in early 2009. Earlier this year, the company purchased intellectual property and equipment connected with an idled DUF6-to-DUF4 deconversion plant, with plans to dismantle and re-construct it at its chosen location.


DUF6, also known as depleted uranium tails, is the main waste product from the uranium enrichment process. Although some depleted uranium is used to dilute high-enriched uranium released from nuclear weapons programmes to make it suitable for use as reactor fuel, other uses for it are limited, and world stockpiles of the material of around 1.5 million tonnes are growing by some 50,000 tonnes per year. International Isotopes claims its process would enable it to produce high-value speciality fluoride gases with potential uses in the microelectronics industry and other applications, while offering an "economical, and environmentally friendly solution for commercial depleted UF6 management." At present there is no large-scale deconversion plant operating in the USA.


Most of the $2 million of capital raised from the private placement will be used to support engineering design and licensing of the planned facility. International Isotopes CEO Steve Laflin admitted in a press release announcing the placement that the further funds that will be needed to build the plant might be hard to raise in the current economic climate. "It is clear the funds from this private placement allow the timetable for the project to remain intact, including our design and licensing schedule, for at least the next year while we explore certain paths and wait for an improvement in market conditions," he said.


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