May 3, 2024

Alternate Methods for Cleaning Zirconium Plate


The United States High Performance Research Reactor Conversion Program identified the need to transition from highly enriched uranium fuel to lowly enriched uranium fuel for high power research and civil reactors. One of the fuel configurations selected for these reactors was a uranium (U) foil alloyed with 10% molybdenum (Mo). The U-10Mo fuel foil was then covered with a zirconium (Zr) interlayer and pressed into an aluminum cladding. Idaho National Laboratory prescribed a need to remove surface oxidation on the Zr prior to bonding it with U-10Mo fuel foil. To determine the best method of oxidation removal, a variety of polishing methods, including hand polishing with a diamond paste or Scotch-Brite™ pads, mechanically wet-polishing with abrasive belts, and chemical etching with hydrofluoric/nitric acid mixtures, were investigated on pre-polished Zircaloy 702 sheets purchased directly from the manufacturer. No change in surface roughness was detected using any of these methods relative to the as-received material. In fact, scanning electron microscopy detected grit from hand polishing with Amplex Grade 30 waste soluble diamond paste and Scotch-Brite™ pads. Visible staining was found, and fluorine detected via X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy on the flash etching samples. These contaminants were not seen on the as-received material. In addition to the need to remove the oxide layer on the Zr prior to co-rolling, there are concerns that the Neolube debonding agent on the co-rolling can may contaminate the Zr surface after co-rolling. The experimental results found that zirconium in contact with Neolube coated steel plates was easily cleaning with ethanol wiping after heat treated and no carbide inclusions remained on the surface. Overall, all cleaning methods tested did not significantly change the surface roughness of the plates or reduce the oxide layer present on the zirconium. Carbon was found on all the samples, before and after cleaning, except for the flash etch samples which detected fluorine instead. The insignificant changes seen in the cleaned plates relative to the as received plates question the need for cleaning prior to rolling. Further investigation in the requirements for cleaning at this step is recommended. Current methods for cleaning the surface after hot rolling with alcohol appear sufficient. After hot rolling, if Neolube does peel off the can and onto the zirconium coated foil surface, a dry abrasive or diamond paste polish is not recommended due to the chance of abrasive being embedded into the surface. However, the ability of an etchant to lift the lubricant off the zirconium surface indicates that a spot etch method could work to clean specific spots where Neolube is present, if the need arises.

Published: May 3, 2024


Shimskey R.W., K. Adams, T.C. Kaspar, L.E. Sweet, M.J. Olszta, J.B. Lang, and Z.F. Huber. 2022. Alternate Methods for Cleaning Zirconium Plate Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Research topics