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Historic American Engineering Record, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Chemical Processing Plant, Fuel Reprocessing Complex

Description: Just as automobiles need fuel to operate, so do nuclear reactors. When fossil fuels such as gasoline are burned to power an automobile, they are consumed immediately and nearly completely in the process. When the fuel is gone, energy production stops. Nuclear reactors are incapable of achieving this near complete burn-up because as the fuel (uranium) that powers them is burned through the process of nuclear fission, a variety of other elements are also created and become intimately associated with the uranium. Because they absorb neutrons, which energize the fission process, these accumulating fission products eventually poison the fuel by stopping the production of energy from it. The fission products may also damage the structural integrity of the fuel elements. Even though the uranium fuel is still present, sometimes in significant quantities, it is unburnable and will not power a reactor unless it is separated from the neutron-absorbing fission products by a method called fuel reprocessing. Construction of the Fuel Reprocessing Complex at the Chem Plant started in 1950 with the Bechtel Corporation serving as construction contractor and American Cyanamid Company as operating contractor. Although the Foster Wheeler Corporation assumed responsibility for the detailed working design of the overall plant, scientists at Oak Ridge designed all of the equipment that would be employed in the uranium separations process. After three years of construction activity and extensive testing, the plant was ready to handle its first load of irradiated fuel.
Date: December 1, 2006
Creator: Stacy, Susan & Braun, Julie
Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department