UK gets a new plutonium lab

29 June 2010

The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has celebrated the start of work at the UK's only civil facility that works with plutonium samples on fuel cycle issues. 


Plutonium and Minor Actinides Laboratory (NNL) 
Work is under way on gram
samples of civil plutonium
(Image: NLL)
The Plutonium and Minor Actinides Laboratory, dubbed 'Puma', can handle tens of grams of plutonium, said the NNL which added that the lab was "a unique facility in the UK for world-class chemistry and materials science."


Most of the work that will be carried out at the Sellafield facility will be related to the 'back end' of nuclear fuel cycle and the reuse of plutonium and uranium oxides recovered from used fuel.


The lab is part of the NNL's work to develop new 'grouped actinide extraction' processes to support an EU program on advanced used nuclear fuel recycling. One criticism of current methods of reprocessing and recycling is the security risk of separating plutonium, even though this is reactor grade and not weapons-grade material. In future a number of elements could be extracted as a group, resulting in a mixture that would be useless for weapons and very hard for any potential malevolent groups to separate.


That project is funded partly by the EU under the seventh research framework as well as Sellafield Ltd, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Atomic Weapons Establishment. Plutonium samples for the work all come from the Sellafield site where Sellafield Ltd manages their care on behalf of owners the NDA.


The Puma lab is also contributing to studies of the behaviour of neptunium in current Purex reprocessing methods and developing uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) residue dissolution and purification methods. Finally, it is helping to characterise the sludges from some 1950s fuel cycle facilities being decommissioned at Sellafield.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News