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Alternative Anodes for the Electrolytic Reduction of Uranium Dioxide
Chemical and Materials Engineering
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Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel is an essential step in closing the nuclear fuel cycle. In order to consume current stockpiles, ceramic uranium dioxide spent nuclear fuel will be subjected to an electrolytic reduction process. The current reduction process employs a platinum anode and a stainless steel alloy 316 cathode in a molten salt bath consisting of LiCl-2wt% Li2O and occurs at 700⁰C. A major shortcoming of the existing process is the degradation of the platinum anode under the severely oxidizing conditions encountered during electrolytic reduction. This work investigates alternative anode materials for the electrolytic reduction of uranium oxide.The high temperature and extreme oxidizing conditions encountered in these studies necessitated a unique set of design constraints on the system. Thus, a customized experimental apparatus was designed and constructed. The electrochemical experiments were performed in an electrochemical reactor placed inside a furnace. This entire setup was housed inside a glove box, in order to maintain an inert atmosphere.This study investigates alternative anode materials through accelerated corrosion testing. Surface morphology was studied using scanning electron microscopy. Surface chemistry was characterized using energy dispersive spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy. Electrochemical behavior of candidate materials was evaluated using potentiodynamic polarization characteristics. After narrowing the number of candidate electrode materials, ferrous stainless steel alloy 316, nickel based Inconel 718 and elemental tungsten were chosen for further investigation. Of these materials only tungsten was found to be sufficiently stable at the anodic potential required for electrolysis of uranium dioxide in molten salt. The tungsten anode and stainless steel alloy 316 cathode electrode system was studied at the required reduction potential for UO2 with varying lithium oxide concentrations. Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy showed mixed (kinetic and diffusion) control and an overall low impedance due to extreme corrosion. It was observed that tungsten is sufficiently stable in LiCl - 2wt% Li2O at 700⁰C at the required anodic potential for the reduction of uranium oxide. This study identifies tungsten to be a superior anode material to platinum for the electrolytic reduction of uranium oxide, both in terms of superior corrosion behavior and reduced cost, and thus recommends that tungsten be further investigated as an alternative anode for the electrolytic reduction of uranium dioxide.