The Y-12 National Security Complex recently fulfilled its commitment to provide low-enriched uranium, or LEU, as feedstock to fuel the “Safe LOW-POwer Kritical Experiment” (SLOWPOKE) research reactor in Kingston, Jamaica.
“Our role is to produce the uranium dioxide feedstock and to manage fabrication of LEU fuel pins for the reactor core to enable conversion from highly enriched uranium, or HEU, to LEU,” said John Creasy of Y‑12’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Global Security Programs.
The new pins, made of low enriched uranium dioxide powder, will replace those made with weapons-useable HEU, thus making the reactor fuel less desirable to terrorists. Y-12 has a long history of supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear nonproliferation activities throughout the world. This project is just one of several HEU-to-LEU conversion efforts in which Y-12 has participated in support of the Department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, or GTRI.
The last shipment of uranium dioxide feedstock was shipped last month to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, where it will be fabricated into fuel pins. AECL was selected because it designed the original SLOWPOKE reactor.
“Our involvement does not stop there,” said Terryann Nelson of Y-12’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Global Security Programs. “Y-12’s expertise in metallurgy and quality assurance is being used to ensure high-quality cladding for the new fuel pins.” Cladding is the outer layer of the fuel rods, standing between the coolant and the nuclear fuel.
Y-12 is partnering with Cameco Zircatech to produce the unique zirconium alloy components needed to complete the fuel fabrication. Those components will be shipped to AECL for the fuel pin manufacturing. AECL will form the fuel pins, which will be assembled into the new reactor core at the reactor facility in Jamaica. The fuel assembly looks similar to 300 pencils standing upright in a circle that’s about twice the size of a coffee can.
Once fuel fabrication is completed, the fuel pins will be shipped to Y-12 for interim storage until the Jamaican reactor is ready to receive them. GTRI estimates that the reactor’s core conversion process will be completed in 2015.
GTRI, working with Y-12, assists research reactor operators around the world in performing feasibility studies and safety analyses required for regulatory approval to convert, procuring LEU replacement fuels, developing and qualifying new LEU fuels to convert high performance reactors, and supporting the development of LEU fuel fabrication capability to commercially produce new high-density fuel.