Manufacturing Fuel Pellets without Powder Sintering

Photo of Lilian BouKheir, Matt Garcia, Trey Stephens, and Miguel Villarreal Students: Lilian BouKheir, Matt Garcia, Trey Stephens, and Miguel Villarreal

Sponsor: UT Austin Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory

Date: Summer 2008

Requirements:

There are three broad categories of requirements and constraints for this project: safety, proliferation, and economic feasibility. The team must recommend a process that eliminates or minimizes contamination of the environment and the possibility of proliferation of the spent fuel. These requirements were quantified as the number of involved steps using irradiated material, and the number of human operators. This led the team to seek a process that is easily automated and controlled from a remote area. Furthermore, the sponsor desires a process that uses commercially available equipment, can produce 100,000 pellets per day at a cost of about $10 a pellet.

Problem:

Existing nuclear facilities in the United States must dispose of all spent fuel. Since the fuel has been irradiated during its time in the nuclear reactor, it cannot easily be disposed of. Furthermore, the current Powder Sintering process used to create fuel pellets produces undesirable dust contamination. Thus, the problem addressed by this project was to determine a process for manufacturing nuclear fuel pellets that will create less contamination than the current powder sintering method.

Solution:

An extensive initia research phase entailed exploring alternative processes that can be utilized in the nuclear industry. The alternative processes explored include Internal/External Sol Gel, Impregnation, Infiltration, Granulation, and Vibratory Compaction. These processes were then compared using a criteria taken based on the requirements and constraints. The current Powder Sintering process was used as a benchmark. The results indicated that the Sol Gel Process is superior to the other alternative processes. After selecting a process, the team developed a detailed process flowchart and process diagram. The process flowchart illustrates each step in the process, while the process diagram protrays a possible layout of the process. The process diagram was developed based upon the assumed production requirement of 100,000 pellets per day. Equipment specifications were developed and an economic analysis was performed to verify the feasibility of the process for this application.

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