Aqueous Electrochemical Mechanisms in Actinide Residue Processing

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Plutonium and uranium residues (e.g., incinerator ash, combustibles, and sand/slag/crucibles) resulting from the purification and processing of nuclear materials constitute an enormous volume of ''lean'' processing waste and represent a significant fraction of the U. S. Department of Energy's (DOE) legacy waste from fifty years of nuclear weapons production activities. Much of this material is presently in storage at sites throughout the DOE weapons production complex (most notably Rocky Flats, Savannah River and Hanford) awaiting further processing and/or final disposition. The chemical and physical stability of much of this material has been called into question recently by the Defense Nuclear ... continued below

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Morris, David E.; Burns, Carol J.; Smith, Wayne H. & Blanchard December 31, 2000.

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Description

Plutonium and uranium residues (e.g., incinerator ash, combustibles, and sand/slag/crucibles) resulting from the purification and processing of nuclear materials constitute an enormous volume of ''lean'' processing waste and represent a significant fraction of the U. S. Department of Energy's (DOE) legacy waste from fifty years of nuclear weapons production activities. Much of this material is presently in storage at sites throughout the DOE weapons production complex (most notably Rocky Flats, Savannah River and Hanford) awaiting further processing and/or final disposition. The chemical and physical stability of much of this material has been called into question recently by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB) and resulted in the issuance of a mandate by the DNFSB to undertake a program to stabilize these materials [1]. The ultimate disposition for much of these materials is anticipated to be geologic repositories such as the proposed Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. However, in light of the mandate to stabilize existing residues and the probable concomitant increase in the volume of material to be disposed as a result of stabilization (e.g., from repackaging at lower residue densities), the projected storage volume for these wastes within anticipated geologic repositories will likely be exceeded simply to handle existing wastes. Additional processing of some of these residue waste streams to reduce radionuclide activity levels, matrix volume, or both is a potentially important strategy to achieve both stabilization and volume reduction so that the anticipated geologic repositories will provide adequate storage volume. In general, the plutonium and uranium that remains in solid residue materials exists in a very stable chemical form (e.g., as binary oxides), and the options available to remove the actinides are limited. However, there have been some demonstrated successes in this vain using aqueous phase electrochemical methods such as the Catalyzed Electrochemical Plutonium Oxide Dissolution (CEPOD) process pioneered by workers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the mid-1970s [2]. The basis for most of these mediated electrochemical oxidation/reduction (MEO/R) processes is the generation of a dissolved electrochemical catalyst, such as Ag2+, which is capable of oxidizing or reducing solid-phase actinide species or actinide sorbates via 7 heterogeneous electron transfer to oxidation states that have significantly greater solubilities (e.g., PuO2(s) to PuO2 2+ (dissolved)). The solubilized actinide can then be recovered by ion exchange or other mechanisms. These aqueous electrochemical methods for residue treatment have been considered in many of the ''trade studies'' to evaluate options for stabilization of the various categories of residue materials. While some concerns generally arise (e.g., large secondary waste volumes could results since the process stream normally goes th rough anion exchange or precipitation steps to remove the actinide), the real utility and versatility of these methods should not be overlooked. They are low temperature, ambient pressure processes that operate in a non-corrosive environment. In principle, they can be designed to be highly selective for the actinides (i.e., no substrate degradation occurs), they can be utilized for many categories of residue materials with little or no modification in hardware or operating conditions, and they can conceivably be engineered to minimize secondary waste stream volume. However, some fundamental questions remain concerning the mechanisms through which these processes act, and how the processes might be optimized to maximize efficiency while minimizing secondary waste. In addition, given the success achieved to date on the limited set of residues, further research is merited to extend the range of applicability of these electrochemical methods to other residue and waste streams. The principal goal of the work described here is to develop a fundamental understanding of the heterogeneous electron transfer thermodynamics and kinetics that lie at the heart of the MEO/R processes for actinide solids and actinide species entrained in or surface-bound to residue substrates. This has been accomplished as described in detail below through spectroscopic characterization of actinide-bearing substrates and electrochemical investigations of electron transfer reactions between uranium- and plutonium- (or surrogates) bearing solids (dispersed actinide solid phases and actinides sorbed to inorganic and organic colloids) and polarizable electrode materials. In general, the actinide solids or substrate-supported species were chosen to represent relevant residue materials (e.g., incinerator ash, sand/slag/crucible, and combustibles).

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  • Other Information: PBD: 31 Dec 2000

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  • December 31, 2000

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Morris, David E.; Burns, Carol J.; Smith, Wayne H. & Blanchard. Aqueous Electrochemical Mechanisms in Actinide Residue Processing, report, December 31, 2000; Los Alamos, New Mexico. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc785863/: accessed September 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.