Uranium alloyed with 50 wt% zirconium (U-50Zr) is a proposed light water reactor (LWR) nuclear fuel by Lightbridge Corporation (Ltbr). The proposed method for making the U-50Zr alloy is to arc-melt master alloys and then remelt in a vacuum induction melter (VIM) to consolidate the material and cast into an intermediate shape. After casting, the material will eventually need to be formed into a desired fuel shape. The work discussed in this report resulted from a joint effort between Ltbr and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNN) to investigate a 500g – 1kg scale casting process to produce the U-50Zr alloy in the desired d-UZr2 phase and characterize the impurities and microstructure that result from the casting process.
Master alloys were fabricated in an arc melter, then five castings were carried out in a VIM with multiple inert coating and crucible materials to find an appropriate combination. Both ZrO2 and graphite crucibles were used and different combinations of Y2O3, CaZrO3, and TiC to identify which would contain the molten metal with the least reaction. On each casting, the C, O, N, H impurities were analyzed as well as the phase by x-ray diffraction and microstructure.
Of the five castings, two resulted in majority of phase-pure material and had impurity levels within acceptable ranges. The two most successful castings utilized a graphite crucible with a TiC undercoating and a Y2O3 overcoat. The O and N levels were below 1000 ppm and the C content was variable but did not result in measurable carbide formation. The highest success casting resulted in an average of 282 ppm C, 567 ppm O, 217 ppm N and 79 ppm H. This castings crucible and inert coating material was repeated with slightly different casting parameters and resulted in higher C numbers but similar phase identification. The differences between each casting are discussed and recommendations are made for future experiments to better decide on a casting process to go forward with.
Published: March 9, 2023
Huber Z.F., E.R. Conte, C.A. Lavender, J. Fornof, E. Shaber, A. Mushakov, and J. Johnson, et al. 2023.Casting and Characterization of U-50Zr Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.