Renovations Underway At Oldest U.S. Nuclear Facility

The Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management (EM)said that renovations are underway to prepare a facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to process a high-dose portion of the on-site uranium-233 inventory, enabling to convert the material into a disposal-ready form.

Oak Ride LaboratoryWith the process, the EM said they can extract "an unprecedented amount of thorium for next-generation cancer research".

Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management contractor Isotek is performing the work to support what EM said was its "highest priority project" for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is: to eliminate the nation’s uranium-233 inventory.

The current stockpile is stored in the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility, Building 3019. The uranium-233 is an isotope that was created as an alternative fuel source for nuclear reactors in decades past. However, the fuel did not prove viable for commercial applications.

The high-dose uranium-233 canisters, which make up the majority of the remaining uranium-233 inventory, will be processed in Building 2026 hot cells. The cells include protective shielding and remote mechanical arms needed to handle the material.

Workers are performing upgrades to the hot cells, which have radiological contamination from previous DOE research missions. Crews wear protective suits and construct containment tents to prevent the spread of radiological contamination once a hot cell is opened.

Crews also are removing old equipment to make way for new installations, including a cell portal to make material entry easier, cutting tools to open uranium-233 storage canisters, pumping systems for chemicals, filtration systems to extract the thorium, and remote manipulators.

In the near future, rooms in building 2026 will be remodeled to store large tanks of downblended material. In addition, a two-story mixing silo will be constructed outside the facility to provide cement to mix with the downblended material.

Isotek is currently processing low-dose canisters of uranium-233 in gloveboxes, and it expects to begin hot cell processing later this year.


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  • Anonymous

    As I recall U233 is fissile why not let our existing reactors burn it up rather than throw it away. Dumb DOE approach.

  • Anonymous

    But the u233 can be burned in the coming MSRs, right? Why are they so eager to destroy the fuel?