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Savannah River Plant Thorium Processing Experience

D. A. Orth

Nuclear Technology

Volume 43 / Number 1 / April 1979 / Pages 63-74


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Some experience in 233U-Th processing is available from past operations at government sites and may be of interest to the current reevaluation of thorium fuel cycles. In five separate campaigns between 1964 and 1970, the Savannah River Plant processed ∼240 tons (MT) of thorium, irradiated as aluminum-clad metal and oxide and recovered ∼580 kg of total uranium. Satisfactory processing routes were devised for a solvent extraction plant that normally processes enriched uranium and previously was a Purex plant. In the initial campaigns, a dilute tributyl phosphate (TBP) flowsheet recovered only uranium, and thorium was sent to waste. In later campaigns, a modified Thorex solvent extraction flowsheet recovered both uranium and thorium. Satisfactory processing required specific attention to the slow dissolving rate of ThO2, the presence of highly radioactive 233Pa, solvent extraction flowsheet constraints to avoid formation of two organic phases in the thorium-TBP systems, the ingrowth of gamma-emitting daughters of 232U, and 233U criticality.

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