China enters zirconium sponge export market

18 August 2020

China's first bulk export order for nuclear-grade zirconium sponge has begun its journey to Russia, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) announced today. Nuclear-grade zirconium sponge is used to produce zirconium alloys for nuclear reactor components, such as the cladding for fuel rods.

Drums of nuclear-grade zirconium sponge awaiting shipment to Russia (Image: CNNC)

Commercial-grade zirconium usually contains up to 3% hafnium, but this must be removed for nuclear energy uses. Zirconium sponge is the high purity product of the removal of hafnium by pyrometallurgical processing, which can then be used in nuclear component manufacture.

CNNC subsidiary China Atomic Energy Industry Company Ltd in May signed a nuclear-grade zirconium sponge export contract with the Chebesk Metallurgical Plant, part of TVEL, the fuel manufacturer subsidiary of Russia's Rosatom.

The first batch of nuclear-grade zirconium sponge developed by China Atomic Energy Industry Company Ltd began its journey by ship to an eastern Russian port a few days ago, CNNC said. Once there, it will be transported to the customer by train and is expected to arrive in early September.

CNNC noted this is the first time that China has supplied nuclear-grade zirconium sponge to overseas in bulk, "marking a huge breakthrough in the export of nuclear-grade zirconium materials for the country, and indicating that the production and manufacturing of nuclear-grade zirconium sponge in China has reached international standards."

For a long time, zirconium alloy material used for fuel assembly in Chinese nuclear power plants depended on imports, according to CNNC.

China Atomic Energy Industry Company Ltd is currently the only company in China that can simultaneously realise the entire industrial chain from raw material production, zirconium and hafnium separation to nuclear-grade zirconium sponge and hafnium preparation. In August 2019, the nuclear-grade zirconium sponge products manufactured by CNNC successfully passed the qualification appraisal, marking that the nuclear-grade zirconium sponge products independently developed and produced by CNNC have reached the domestic advanced level.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News