Purification of plutonium via electromagnetic levitation

Lashley, J. C.; Blau, M. S.; Quagliano, J. R.
July 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 532 Issue 1, p243
Academic Journal
Plutonium metal that has been double electrorefined (ER) was further purified via zone refining, using a levitated molten zone to minimize the introduction of impurities. The temperature of the molten zone was 750 °C, and the atmosphere was 10[sup -5] Pa. A total of ten zone refining passes were made at a travel rate of 1.5 cm/hr. In order to study the efficiency of the zone refining process, core samples were taken after every two zone refining passes in five locations along the length plutonium specimen. Several impurities were reduced to levels below that of instrument detection limits, and it appears that six sequential zone refining passes are required to obtain the highest purity metal. The total impurity concentration (sum of 75 elements) in the cleanest portion of the plutonium specimen was 130 ppm (excluding N, O, F, Cl, and Br), and uranium contributes 110 ppm to the 130 ppm. The zone-refined metal was then used in an in situ distillation, alloying, and casting step to prepare tapered specimens for single-crystal growth experiments. Specifically, [sup 241]Am was distilled from Pu metal by levitating Pu metal with 1 wt. % Ga in the melt in a Crystallox vertical electromagnetic levitation crucible at 10[sup -5] Pa (Figure 1). The Pu is alloyed with Ga to stabilize the δ phase (fcc symmetry) upon solidification. The Pu was chill-cast directly from the electromagnetic levitation field into 1-cm tapered specimens. A water-cooled ceramic mold was used, and the Pu metal was cooled at a rate of 100°C/min. A microstructure examination of the specimen showed 10 x 25 mm acicular grains with an as-cast density of 15.938 g/cm³ (± 0.002 g/cm³). Experimental results from zone refining will be presented together with some examples of measurements using the pure plutonium metal.


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