Decontamination and Conversion

of Highly Enriched Uranium at Los Alamos

David A.Costa, Brad Schake, Minnie Martinez, James Rocha, Coleman Smith, Quentin Appert, Phillp Banks Nuclear Materials Technology Division, Mail Stop E530, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545.


Introduction. Throughout the Department of Energy (DOE) Complex, there are holdings of oralloy (highly enriched uranium) contaminated with plutonium (Pu) and americium (Am). Contaminated oralloy cannot be dispositioned to Oak Ridge until one of two criteria are met: either the surface is cleaned to a smearable TRU alpha activity level of below 20 disintegrations per minute (dpm)/100 cm2, or the bulk oxide after conversion has a contamination limit of less than 210 ppb TRU. Together, the NMT and Engineering Sciences and Applications (ESA) Divisions at Los Alamos National Laboratory are continuing the development of an advanced HEU Decontamination and Conversion (D&C) system. In this talk we will discuss the development of the Decontamination and Conversion system at TA-55, along with the general complex wide disposition paths recommended for HEU.

Description of Work. The first stage of the D&C process, electrolytic decontamination, is similar to the common industrial practice of electropolishing and is accomplished by passing a constant current from a stainless steel cathode to the oralloy anode through an electrolyte solution. This electrochemical process results in the dissolution of uranium and transuranic contaminants from the surface of the Oralloy part. The solubilized contaminants are subsequently removed from the solution by precipitation and filtration. The surface contamination on the oralloy parts can be reduced by this method to below either of two acceptance criteria: (1) 20dpm/100 cm2 transuranic contamination or (2) transuranic activity less than 1/50 of the uranium alpha activity. The second stage of the DAC process involves direct metal oxidation and blending to produce Y-12 acceptable oxide. Operations to be discussed will include material acceptance, decontamination, alpha assay, oxidation, residue disposition and acceptance criteria for off-site shipment.


Smear data from the oralloy parts have shown in most cases a substantial amount of

uranium must be removed to meet the 20 dpm/100 cm2. Smears are collected by just a

general smear of the whole part, dissolved into nitric acid, plated onto a glass planchette,

and counted using alpha spectrometry. Results from the oxide formed after direct metal

oxidation show less than 200 ppb transuranic material no matter what the external