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SPI-Chem™ Depleted Uranium Products

All uranium containing products offered by SPI Supplies are made from "depleted" uranium



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Introduction:
Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process whereby the fissionable isotope U235 is extracted from natural uranium. After separation of U235, the energy source material for reactors, the DU that remains is used in making military, laboratory, medical and other commercial products. In today's world, it is important for virtually all users to demand that their requirements for uranium and its compounds be made exclusively from DU.

Uranium occurs in nature as an oxide and is mined as U3O8, which contains about 0.7 wt% of the fissionable isotope U235. The impure U3O8 is converted to UO3. which itself is then hydrofluorinated to form UF6, a gas, at slightly elevated temperature and reduced pressure. UF6 is processed through a gaseous diffusion plant or gas centrifuge plant to separate the isotopes in the form of U235F6 and U235F6. The US Department of Energy enriches natural uranium from 0.7 wt% U235 to 3 -5 wt% U235 for commercial reactor fuel. For each kilogram of uranium that is enriched to 3 wt% 235U, five to six kilograms of DU containing about 0.2 wt% U235 are produced.

Historically, the enrichment process has produced more DU than is being used. Consequently, the Department of Energy has produced a large stockpile of material, estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 metric tons, in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). This waste by-product of the enrichment process becomes the basic raw material in the production of DU metal, which is readily available and inexpensive.

Reduction of the uranium:
Uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is chemically reduced with hydrogen to produce uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), commonly referred to as "green salt" and is reduced to metal by an exothermic reaction with magnesium. The product of the reaction is a high purity, uranium metal mass, referred to as a "derby".

Uranium products may be coated or clad to protect the surfaces and reduce exposure to personnel involved with subsequent handling in the field or to comply with regulatory requirements. Various coating materials such as acrylic paint, zinc, and nickel may be applied.

Properties:
Crystal Structure:Orthorhombic (alpha)
Complex Tetragonal (beta)
Body-Centered Cubic (gamma)

Atomic Weight: 238.029
Density: 19.0 g/cc (pure)
Melting Point: 1130° C (2066° F)


Applications:
Depleted uranium is used in applications where its combination of high density, fabricability, relatively good mechanical properties and availability give it an advantage over other materials. There are several commercial and military non-nuclear uses of depleted uranium:

Commercial: Calorimeters/Detectors, Radiation Shielding, Counterweights, Flywheels, and Sinker Bars
Military: Kinetic Energy Penetrators, Shape Charge Liners and Explosively Formed Penetrator Lenses, Armor
Scientific/Analytical: Electron microscopy, sodium determinations
Other interesting information about depleted uranium products generally:
Calorimeters/Detectors:
DU sheet is in wide-scale use as an absorber material in high-energy physics research at large accelerator laboratories. The high atomic number and density of DU presents a large number of atoms per unit volume to interact with the particles emerging from collisions in these detectors. Also the slight background radiation from DU enables in situ calibration of the electronic read out devices within such detectors, thereby improving the accuracy of measurement.

Radiation Shielding:
Containers made of DU are used to transport highly radioactive, spent fuel elements and radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial applications. In addition, DU is used as shields in medical equipment for radiation therapy.

Counterweights:
Counterweights made of DU are used in aerodynamic, control devices of airplanes, missiles and helicopters.

Miscellaneous:
Flywheels have been made of DU for large, inertial, energy-storage devices and as sinker bars for oil well logging.

Kinetic Energy Penetrators:
Kinetic energy penetrators are made of DU because of its high density, fabricability, pyrophoricity, availability and low cost compared to other heavy metals.

Shape Charge Liners and Explosively Formed Penetrators Lenses:
Depleted uranium SCLs and EFP lenses are under investigation as a material for warhead applications in missiles, ammunition and submunitions.

Armor:
The U.S. Army has revealed that depleted uranium is used as armor protection in the Abrams main battle tank.

Licensing and Registration:
Ownership, production and use of DU are subject to state and federal regulations. Title 10, Part 40, of the Code of Federal Regulations describes the requirements for obtaining a Radioactive Materials License.


In general, possession of more that 15 lbs. of uranium requires a license from the U.S. NRC or authorized Agreement State. However, users are exempt from this requirement for the following applications:
  1. Uranium contained in counterweights installed in aircraft, rockets, projectiles or missiles, or stored or handled in connection with installation or removal of such counterweights when:
  2. a. The counterweights are manufactured in accordance with the specifications contained in a specific license or equivalent licensing document issued by the NRC or Agreement State;
    b. Each counterweight has been impressed with the following legend legible through any plating or other covering: "DEPLETED URANIUM";
    c. Each counterweight is durably and legibly labeled or marked with the identification of manufacturer and the statement "UNAUTHORIZED ALTERATIONS PROHIBITED"; and
    d. The exemption contained in this subparagraph shall not be deemed to authorize the chemical, physical, or metallurgical treatment or processing of any such counterweights other than repair or restoration of any plating or other covering.
  3. Uranium used as shielding constituting part of any shipping container which is conspicuously and legibly impressed with the legend "CAUTION - RADIOACTIVE SHIELDING - URANIUM" and which is encased in mild steel or equally fire resistant metal of minimum wall thickness of 1/8 inch.
  4. Uranium contained in detector heads for use in fire detection units, provided that each detector head contains no more than 0.005 microcurie of uranium.
In addition, other local, state, and federal regulations may apply and should be checked prior to possession or use of uranium. Obviously, in most countries, the typical laboratory, one using gram quantities for preparing samples for electron microscopy need not worry about "registration". However every country has its own special set of "rules" so it is always best to be on the safe side before placing any orders for uranium containing products.

If you are a customer within the USA, and using one of the uranyl compounds offered by SPI Supplies, no particular registration need to be done. But if you are outside of the USA, it is your responsibility to first, make sure you have all the needed import licenses and authorizations for the importation of a depleted uranium product in small quantities because if we make the shipment, and you are not able to import it, we will specify that the goods be returned but because of the return shipping costs and customs clearance back into the USA, plus our restocking fee, there might not be any refund due. Furthermore, it is the customer's responsibility to make sure that the product(s) is used in compliance with local rules and regulations.


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