Nuclear Engineering Division

Nuclear Chemical Engineering

Radiochemistry

radiochemistry

The Radiochemistry Group studies the chemistry of radioactive materials involved in the nuclear fuel cycle and medical isotope production. Our research is aimed at developing a comprehensive understanding of radiochemical processes via experimental determination and modeling of the underlying kinetics, thermodynamics, and mechanisms of the relevant chemistries. A thorough understanding of these parameters enables the development of potentially transformational used fuel processing techniques, and the optimization and scale-up of known techniques.

Current research goals:

  • Group has designed ALSEP, a single-step process, replacing TRUEX and TALSPEAK processes, to separate lanthanides and actinides
  • Obtain previously inaccessible kinetic constants of TALSPEAK and ALSEP and related processes to enable process optimization and scale-up
  • Develop commercially-viable methods for Mo-99 sorption from nitrate solution containing actinides and fission products
  • Enhance dissolution of irradiated uranium targets for Mo-99/Tc-99m generator production
microfluidic system solvent extraction experiment
A photograph of a microfluidic system used for kinetics studies shown alongside a nickel. A micrograph showing plugs of fluid inside a microfluidic system during a solvent extraction kinetics experiment.

Our experimental research program builds from traditional radiochemical techniques (e.g., solvent extraction, ion-exchange and electrochemistry) but includes new methods of study such as microfluidic devices. These devices rapidly mix aqueous and organic phases, then separate phases and quench the chemical reaction at various time points. Microfluidic systems manipulate fluids at the micron length scale and offer the ability to probe chemical reactions at unprecedented resolutions and time-scales, while generating only infinitesimal amounts of waste.

Eliminating the Use of Highly-Enriched Uranium

The mission of the U.S. non-proliferation policy is to minimize and, to the extent possible, eliminate the use of highly-enriched uranium in civil programs worldwide. To support this goal, Argonne is working to develop technologies to convert reactors from using fuels containing highly-enriched uranium (HEU, 20% or more U-235) to using fuels containing low-enriched uranium (LEU, less than 20% U-235). This work also supports the U.S. Department of Energy's Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) Program.

Developing Medical Isotopes from Low-Enriched Uranium

Argonne researchers are contributing to the security and welfare of our nation by developing means to produce a reliable domestic supply of an important medical agent using low-enriched uranium. Technetium-99m is a vital isotope that is commonly used for cardiac and mammogram imaging. However, the U.S. currently has no domestic source of molybdenum-99, which is the parent nuclide for technetium-99m, so we are particularly susceptible to supply interruptions.

Through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, Argonne researchers are supporting three separate approaches for domestic molybdenum-99 production from low-enriched uranium. Argonne is currently working with University of Missouri Research Reactor, and has already demonstrated one approach by irradiating 5g of low-enriched uranium metal foil. Argonne is also working with Babcock and Wilcox to design a molybdenum-99 production system based on fission of uranium-235 in a liquid fuel reactor. Argonne and NorthStar Nuclear Medicine, LLC are exploring an accelerator-based method for the production of molybdenum-99 by irradiating molybdenum targets.

 

Related Information

Last updated: 08/12/16