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Argonne Scientists Have Found New Method to Coat High-Enriched Uranium

Argonne scientists have found a new alternative to coat nuclear materials that support efforts to reduce the use of high-enriched uranium.

Researchers on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have made a pivotal discovery by taking a method originally developed for the semiconductor trade and utilizing it as a solution to coat nuclear materials. This system referred to as atomic layer deposition (ALD), forms the basis of new strategies to protect nuclear materials and fuels from firsthand exposure to the reactor’s hostile environment.

ALD, like its title, implies it permits researchers to deposit atomically thin films of a particular material on a floor. By build-up these layers, Argonne scientists can kind chemically precise coatings designed to have a set of specific properties.

In one set of experiments, Scientists have worked ALD to deposit zirconium nitride (ZrN) as a coating instantly over low-enriched uranium-molybdenum (U-Mo) powders. The layer is thin enough to permit neutrons to penetrate through, whereas shielding the fuel from degradation, usually from interaction with aluminum (Al), a significant constituent of a research reactor fuel systems.

To examine the stability of the newly developed ZrN coating and the way it interacts with aluminum, scientists performed multiple ex situ irradiation research using heavy ions (to simulate injury from fission fragments) at ATLAS – Argonne’s Tandem Linac Accelerator System facility, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

That specific work to reconstruct coatings for nuclear fuels helps the trouble to convert excessive-power analysis reactors globally use high-enriched uranium (HEU) to take advantage of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuels, in support of the national policy of HEU minimization.

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