One man’s trash: Extracting valuable isotopes from waste material

March 17, 2022, 9:31AMRadwaste Solutions
A vial containing Th-299 extracted from uranyl nitrate.

This past October, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) and its contractor Isotek successfully completed processing and disposing the low-dose inventory of uranium-233 stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), ending a two-year effort that has eliminated a portion of the site’s legacy nuclear material and provided rare nuclear isotopes for next-generation cancer treatment research.

Oak Ridge contractor to resume U-233 processing campaign in March

February 28, 2022, 3:04PMRadwaste Solutions
A screen shot of a YouTube video of the DOE’s U-233 Initial Processing Campaign at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Isotek, the Department of Energy contractor responsible for overseeing the inventory of uranium-233 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and preparing it for removal from the site, said it plans to resume preparations for processing high-dose U-233 in March. The company was forced to suspend its operational readiness review of the Initial Processing Campaign at Oak Ridge in January due to issues related to COVID-19, as well as difficulties operating in colder temperatures.

U-233 processing restarts at Oak Ridge following upgrades

October 22, 2020, 7:01AMNuclear News

A fissile material handler uses a shielded glovebox to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. Photo: DOE

The processing and downblending of uranium-233 for disposal has resumed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, following a pause in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Energy announced on October 20. Removal and disposition of the U-233 is one of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s highest priorities at the site, as stated in its strategic vision released earlier this year.

The project is removing a significant risk by eliminating the inventory of highly enriched fissile material stored in Building 3019, the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility, according to the DOE. Employees, known as fissile material handlers, use shielded gloveboxes to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. The material dates back decades and was originally pursued as a fuel for reactors; however, it did not prove to be a viable option.