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Uranium crystals could reveal future of nuclear fuel

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Posted June 26, 2013
Burgett and his team successfully created pure crystals of a non-radioactive surrogate for fissionable materials. Credit: INL photo

Burgett and his team successfully created pure crystals of a non-radioactive surrogate for fissionable materials. Credit: INL photo

Mention the word “crystals” and few people think of nuclear fuel. Unless you are Eric Burgett. The Idaho State University professor is on a quest to create pure, single crystals of uranium and uranium oxide so researchers at Idaho National Laboratory and elsewhere can better understand the material and design higher performance fuels to power nuclear reactors.

Burgett and his team of graduate students have successfully manufactured cerium oxide crystals as a practice run (cerium can be a nonradioactive surrogate for uranium or plutonium). The team produced its first uranium oxide crystal in June at ISU’s Research in Science and Engineering (RISE) facility in Pocatello.

“A single crystal allows researchers to test and study a material in its simplest form,” said Burgett, who also is a Center for Advanced Energy Studies affiliate.

Burgett first became interested in crystals and their potential to advance nuclear energy research as a doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

He grew zinc oxide crystals for use in neutron detectors. From there, he began experimenting with uranium and plutonium oxide crystals.

In Fiscal Year 2010, he was part of a team that won U.S. Department of Energy funding to create single uranium oxide crystals.

Researchers have long studied the physical characteristics of uranium oxide – the primary fuel for the nation’s nuclear reactor fleet.

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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