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Studies of Polonium Removal from Molten Lead-Bismuth for Lead-Alloy-Cooled Reactor Applications

Jacopo Buongiorno, Eric P. Loewen, Kenneth Czerwinski, Christopher Larson

Nuclear Technology

Volume 147 / Number 3 / September 2004 / Pages 406-417


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The isotope 210Po is the main product of neutron activation in fast reactors cooled by molten lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE). The isotope 210Po is a pure alpha emitter with a half-life of 138.38 days. For typical values of the neutron flux the 210Po concentration in the coolant can reach 1-10 Ci/kg. While exposure of plant personnel to Po is prevented under normal operating conditions because the primary system is sealed, Po does pose a radiological hazard during maintenance activities for which access to submerged structures is required as well as during accidents resulting in breach of the primary-system barrier. Obviously, continuous removal of Po from the LBE reduces this hazard. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms by which Po is formed in and released from the LBE. We summarize research performed at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to investigate the basic chemistry of four mechanisms of Po release, which could serve as the basis for a coolant cleanup system in LBE-cooled reactors. The mechanisms explored are lead polonide evaporation, formation of polonium hydride, rare-earth filtering, and alkaline extraction. For the key chemical species involved expressions are given for useful quantities such as formation energy, release, and deposition rates. It is concluded that the most promising removal mechanism is alkaline extraction, although a more systematic investigation of this mechanism is needed.

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