Archive: Nov 2021

Spent Nuclear Fuel: What You Need to Know

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Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC) is a leading supplier of californium-252 (Cf-252), a powerful neutron source often used as fuel for nuclear reactors. Nuclear fuel is capable of producing and sustaining heat energy through nuclear fission. Since nuclear fuel has a finite amount of energy generation ability and remains hazardous even after it’s used, it is important for nuclear facilities to have a safe and reliable disposal option. In this blog, we will address the characteristics of spent nuclear fuel and how it can be safely managed and disposed of.

What is Spent Nuclear Fuel?

Spent nuclear fuel is nuclear material that has been irradiated for fission reactions until it can no longer generate sufficient heat to provide nuclear power. With more than 96 operating nuclear reactors in power plants across the U.S., approximately 2,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is generated annually. Although this may seem like a high number, the U.S. has only generated approximately 83,000 metric tons of radioactive waste since the establishment of nuclear power plants in 1958. When you consider the amount of power generated by nuclear power plants in that time, the amount of waste is quite small, particularly when compared with the amount of waste produced by traditional fossil fuel power plants.

Transportation of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants. Radioactive waste.

What Happens to Spent Nuclear Fuel?

Spent nuclear fuel is shipped to one of 76 nuclear storage facilities located across 34 U.S. states. Shipping casks for nuclear fuel are specifically engineered to withstand a variety of accidents, including water immersion, fire, impact, and punctures. Upon arrival at the storage facility, the used fuel is kept in secure steel and wep filled containers, eliminating the risk of leakage or contamination throughout the shipping and storage process. In fact, thousands of shipments of depleted nuclear fuel have been transported safely across the U.S. for more than 5 decades without any harm to the environment or the public.  

Although nuclear waste in the U.S. is typically stored in these secure facilities, several countries, including France, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland, recycle used nuclear fuel into new power sources. Since more than 90% of the potential energy of nuclear fuel still remains when it is discarded after 5 years of use in a reactor, recycling the material is a logical and efficient solution. 

In addition to established recycling methods using uranium mixed oxide, a variety of new reactor designs are in the works that could help U.S. facilities make better use of used nuclear fuel.

New research has also shown that californium-252 (Cf-252) may become an integral part of radioactive fuel recycling. Its ability to interact with and start a chain reaction separating different elements coupled with its resistance to damage from radiation may make it a viable option for future nuclear recycling operations.

Depleted Neutron Source Return Program at Frontier Technology Corporation

In spite of the dangers presented by the radioactive nature of nuclear waste, there are a number of established methods for the transport, storage, and recycling of used nuclear materials, which can include Cf-252 neutron sources. Often used as a means of starting chain reactions in nuclear power plants, Cf-252 is highly radioactive and must be safely disposed of once it has been depleted. 

At FTC, we understand the importance of safe handling and disposal of neutron sources, particularly Cf-252. As one of the world’s only suppliers of Cf-252, we consider it our responsibility to ensure that our customers have an accessible means of safely disposing of their depleted neutron sources. To make it as easy as possible, we have developed a fee-free disposal program that allows customers to return their depleted sources to FTC in a manner that is compliant with stringent regulatory guidelines. It is our goal to ensure that our customers can safely and easily dispose of their depleted neutron sources at any time, without laborious procedures or prohibitive fees. 

To learn more about californium-252, our return program, or our portfolio of other services and capabilities, reach out to us today. 

The Neutron Shielding Power of Water-Extended Polyester (WEP) Resin

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At Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC), one of our core specialties is neutron shielding. We offer cutting-edge protective shipping containers for radioactive materials and other essential technologies for handling hazardous neutron sources such as californium-252 (Cf-252). 

Water Extended Polyester (WEP) resin encases materials and creates a strong, effective barrier around the material to protect anyone nearby and the surrounding environment from the hazards of neutron source exposure. Since this resin is capable of successfully enclosing neutrons, it performs well as a shield when transporting Cf-252. In this blog, we will talk a bit more about WEP resin, including its key features and advantages.

What Is Water Extended Polyester (WEP) Resin Material?

WEP beads are a solid polyester resin material and are emulsified with water to enhance their physical properties. After the emulsion process, fillers are added to reduce shrinkage and adjust appearance before a catalyst is used to cure the material.

Extending the resin with water absorbs heat, making it easier to cast parts without exotherm issues while keeping productions costs low. Since the resin mixture has low viscosity, it can properly form to the exact shape of complex and intricate designs with minimal risk of error. It also cures quickly, allowing for quick mold turnover. 

What Are the Advantages of Water Extended Polyester Resin Material?

Choosing the right material for every part of neutron source containment equipment is crucial. WEP resin boasts excellent protective performance when used as shielding for neutron sources, as well as for personnel safety equipment, shielding walls, and pass-through ports. Along with excellent performance as a neutron-containing material, it offers these key advantages:

Affordability

Because WEP resin is mixed with a substantial amount of water to achieve its beneficial properties, this results in a lower cost relative to other materials. WEP resin’s ability to cure quickly and completely fill complex molds also cuts costs by reducing production times and eliminating the risk of incomplete or poorly made finished products.

Track-Free Curing 

Resin-based products cure in the air without needing any heat or specialized curing processes, resulting in track-free cure.

Beneficial Qualities

WEP resin has a variety of desirable qualities, including:

  • Resistance to wear and weathering
  • Temperature resistance in relatively low-heat environments of up to 176°F (80°C).
  • Low shrinkage, which can be augmented with the presence of proper fillers
  • Resistance to water and other chemicals

Water Extended Polyester (WEP) Resin at Frontier Technology Corporation

At FTC, our team excels at creating the radioactive protection that industries need to ensure safe handling and disposal of these materials. Our shielding solutions are trusted throughout the mining, nuclear, and military industries, among many more. 

To learn more about our WEP material, neutron shielding, or to get started on your shielding solution, click here for our main neutron shielding resource or contact us today.

3 Reasons Why Nuclear Power is a Clean Energy Source

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Public awareness of clean and sustainable sources of energy has grown significantly, particularly in recent years, as focus sharpens on lessening the impacts of climate change. However, while solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are commonly discussed, nuclear power is often left out of the conversation. 

Nuclear power plants are the largest source of emission-free energy in the United States and the second-largest source of emission-free energy in the world. So why is nuclear power generally excluded from the clean energy conversation? One of the main reasons may be misunderstandings about nuclear power—namely that it is not a clean energy source. Below, we highlight three facts that help to answer the question: is nuclear power a clean energy source?

1. Nuclear Power Maintains Air Quality

Unlike other energy sources (e.g., coal, oil, and natural gas), nuclear energy is a zero-emission energy source. It generates power through fission rather than combustion. The process involves the splitting of uranium atoms, which generates and releases heat. The heat generated and released is used to produce steam for turbines, which produce electricity without creating and emitting potentially harmful airborne byproducts (e.g., nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, mercury, and dust). nuclear plants with a blue sky background

These harmful byproducts, produced in high quantities by power generation operations that utilize coal, oil, and natural gas, can negatively affect human health and the environment. For example: 

  • Nitrogen oxide can lead to smog.
  • Sulfur dioxide can lead to acid rain.
  • Carbon dioxide can contribute to climate change. 
  • Mercury can impact the nervous system.
  • Dust and other particulates can cause respiratory illnesses.  

Switching from conventional power generation systems to nuclear power generation systems can significantly reduce the amounts of these compounds present in the air, resulting in a cleaner and healthier world. 

2. Nuclear Power Has a Smaller Land Footprint

While other carbon-free power options are available (e.g., solar power and wind power), they generally require more land than nuclear power. Compared to any other clean energy sources, nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land space. For example, a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant with a single commercial reactor requires a single square mile to operate. In comparison, a solar power plant would require 75 square miles and 3,000,000 solar panels to produce the same amount of electricity, while a wind power plant would require 360 square miles and 430 wind turbines to produce the same amount of electricity. 

3. Nuclear Power Generates Minimal Waste

The fuel used in nuclear power generation operations is extremely dense. Compared to the fuels used in traditional power generation operations, it is approximately 1,000,000 times denser, which allows it to take up a smaller amount of space before and after use. For reference, the amount of nuclear fuel waste generated in the United States over the past 60 years could be contained within an area the length and width of a football field with a depth of less than 10 yards. Group of stacked yellow drums with radioactive waste

The nuclear power industry takes full responsibility for all of the waste it produces—both high-level and low-level nuclear energy waste. High-level waste typically refers to used fuel, while low-level fuel typically refers to items exposed to radioactive materials (e.g., gloves and tools). Currently, the standard method for managing both types of nuclear waste is containing and storing the materials in isolated locations until their radioactivity levels have diminished to the point where they can be reintroduced into the environment without causing harm. For some low-level waste, this period is relatively short; it is stored until it is no longer radioactive and then disposed of along with normal trash. However, other low-level waste and high-level waste are slated for essentially permanent storage in designated disposal sites. 

Another waste management option is reprocessing and recycling the materials for use in future operations. While the United States currently does not practice this method, advancements in reactor technology could allow nuclear power plants to utilize used fuel, which, if successful, could significantly reduce the amount of used fuel storage space required. 

Partner with the Experts at FTC for Your Nuclear Power Needs

Nuclear power is a clean and sustainable source of energy, and organizations across the globe are now incorporating it at higher rates. As a premier provider of californium-252 (Cf-252) neutron sources, Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC) is well-versed in the benefits nuclear power has to offer to the world. 

At FTC, our neutron sources find use in a variety of industries and applications. The cores of our business are providing nuclear reactor start-up rods, Cf-252 neutron sources, and shipping containers to customers in a wide variety of industries. To learn more about our products and how we serve the nuclear power industry, reach out to us or request a quote today.