NRC Licenses “Deconversion” Plant and Marks Several Firsts

When the NRC issued a license today to International Isotopes Fluorine Products (IIFP) to build and operate a deconversion plant in New Mexico, it marked several “firsts” for the agency.

Most importantly, it was the first time the NRC licensed a “deconversion” facility, which processes depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) left over from enriching uranium to make nuclear fuel. (DUF6 is a corrosive chemical that can, if exposed to moisture, form highly poisonous hydrogen fluoride gas. Deconversion turns the DUF6 into more chemically-stable, uranium oxide compounds. These compounds are better suited than DUF6 for disposal in a licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.)

Also, this is the first DUF6 deconversion plant to extract and market fluoride in the U.S. The NRC license allows IIFP to extract high-purity fluoride compounds from the DUF6. The company then plans to sell the fluoride compounds on the commercial market where they can be used to make refrigerants, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, high-octane gasoline, aluminum, plastics, electrical components and fluorescent light bulbs. Extracting the fluoride atoms from DUF6 and replacing them with oxygen also significantly reduces the material’s chemical hazards.

And this is the first new DUF6 licensee to have an Integrated Safety Analysis. The NRC recently began requiring new facilities that handle large quantities of natural or depleted UF6, such as the IIFP plant, to develop Integrated Safety Analyses. This type of analysis identifies potential accidents that could affect the safety of the nuclear materials at a site. The analysis also identifies systems, procedures, and other controls to prevent or mitigate each accident.

For more information on IIFP’s application, the licensing process, or the deconversion process, see the NRC’s website.

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer
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