A new paradigm for leveraging modern and advanced chemical industry practices to ensure that the U.S. Department of Energy nuclear chemical complex meets its current and future goals.
The nuclear chemical process industry in the United States is primarily a government-owned and contractor-operated business that is tasked with maintaining the nuclear materials weapons stockpile, managing Cold War legacy defense related wastes, and producing nuclear materials for commercial and defense applications. The nuclear chemical industry processes tritium gas, manufactures tritium plutonium and uranium from irradiated nuclear targets/fuel using radiochemical processes and processes the resulting waste streams for final disposal. This U.S. industry has a long term mission that will likely continue beyond 2040, and in some cases, will continue indefinitely.
During the Cold War era, manufacturing innovation was fueled significantly by the defense industry, which funded basic research and entire product development, commercialization, and production. From World War II through the 1960s, and in some cases up to the end of the Cold War, American chemical companies and the U.S. government’s Department of Energy (DOE) The predecessors agencies during the Cold War were the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Research and Development Agency benefited from a quasi-symbiotic relationship where research in chemical science, engineering, and manufacturing allowed each to leverage new technology to meet the goals of national nuclear defense and non-nuclear commercial product development. Many of the large government owned test beds and demonstration facilities led to advancements in basic chemical engineering technology that could then be applied in the commercial chemical business. State of the art and commercial chemical industry technology was employed by the chemical companies to build and operate large nuclear chemical complexes for the U.S. government that were designed to produce fissionable chemicals. As the missions of these facilities evolved, unique technologies developed within them were leveraged for commercial application. To a much greater extent, the U.S. government nuclear chemical facilities benefitted from commercial sector chemical technology advancements as the weapons complex continued to innovate and modernize up through the end of the Cold War.
Significant opportunities exist to utilize existing and emerging commercial chemical process engineering principles to advance the nuclear chemical industry that will 1) significantly reduce capital and life cycle cost, 2) reduce complex handling of large quantities of hazardous materials, 3) lower chemical and criticality risk, 4) simplify maintenance and upgrades, 5) reduce the number of sampling/characterization points, and 6) reduce plant footprint which reduces deactivation and decommissioning liability and reduce seismic/tornado hazard risks 7) conducting integrated and online business/process decision making for significant decreases in operating cost.