Licence to deconvert uranium

03 October 2012

Nuclear safety regulators have approved International Isotopes' plans to deconvert depleted uranium hexafluoride tails and go on to sell fluorine gases and other chemical by-products.

Steve Laflin in Lea_County (International Isotopes) 169x250
International Isotopes CEO
Steve Laflin at the site in
Lea County, New Mexico

The forthcoming plant will be managed by a subsidiary of International Isotopes on a 260 hectare plot in Lea County, New Mexico. The company has already selected Parsons as the prime contractor for building the plant on a turnkey basis, leading a team including Merrick & Company, Burns & Roe and Baker Concrete Construction.

Yesterday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) drew 33 months of deliberation to a close by issuing a licence for the construction and operation of the plant - all subject to ongoing monitoring.

The plant will deconvert depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) - the so-called tails left behind after uranium enrichment - into uranium tetrafluoride, which will then be used as a feedstock for International Isotopes' own fluorine extraction process to produce fluoride gases. The licence allows it to process 8 million pound of DUF6 each year.

As well as producing specialist fluoride gases for a variety of industrial applications, the plant will also produce anhydrous hydrofluoric acid which International Isotopes plans to sell as a by-product. Another output stream of depleted uranium oxide will be disposed of as low-level radioactive waste.

The NRC noted the plant was the first deconversion plant it had licensed. However, another deconversion plant operates in the USA under the oversight of the Department of Energy: A 13,500 tonnes per year facility in Ohio began operation in September 2010 to tackle the USA's estimated inventory of over 700,000 tonnes of DUF6 from 50 years of operations at the country's gaseous diffusion enrichment plants. That plant was built by Uranium Disposition Services, a joint venture of Areva, Energy Solutions and Burns & Roe.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News