Zirconium Sponge Production Plant Launched In Russia

Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom has announced the development of a new process for the production of zirconium sponge material to be used in nuclear plant fuel assemblies. The process was developed at the Chepetsky Mechanical Plant (ChMP), a division of Rosatom’s TVEL Fuel Company in Glazov, Russia in the Udmurt Republic.

Ceremony for zirconium sponge plantIn conjunction with this, the company has inaugurated a new facility that will handle zirconium sponge production with a ceremony that took place on October 5, 2021. Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev attended the launch ceremony along with TVEL Fuel Company President Natalia Nikipelova.

Until now, ChMP, the sole Russian enterprise manufacturing zirconium goods, has only used fluoride technology for the production of electrolytic zirconium powder.
In the common global practice, structural materials of nuclear fuel are made of zirconium sponge. Compared to the fluoride technology, the new sponge production contains half the number of technological operations and has lower consumption of raw materials and energy. The volume of waste is also significantly reduced with the new process, while, concurrently, the purity of the zirconium remains high as measured by the hafnium content.
“Mastering zirconium sponge is a major landmark for zirconium production in Rosatom. Development of our own technology from scratch and construction of the new industrial facility is a huge achievement of our researchers and engineers, an important contribution to our global competitiveness. Zirconium sponge can be widely applied in the fabrication of nuclear fuel for all major types of power reactors, both of Russian and foreign design,” Nikipelova said.
The launch of the new facility at the site of Chepetsky Mechanical Plant is the result of the long-term large-scale work and the wide cooperation of ROSATOM enterprises. Development of the own zirconium sponge production required solving a number of issues that the Russian researchers, constructors, and machine-builders had never faced before. The complete technological cycle and all the equipment for zirconium sponge production were designed and manufactured in Russia. In the process, more than 100 new technical solutions were developed and seven inventions and patents were registered.
The most important part of the project was the development of the twelfth (and last) technological conversion stage, which was the rectification separation of zirconium and hafnium chlorides.
Design and development of the new installation included mastering the technology of manufacturing equipment from nickel-chromium-molybdenum alloy, for the first time in Russia, as well as the development of pumps for pumping melts, heat, and mass exchangers.

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