Radioisotope Separations and Reprocessing Chemistry

The Plutonium and Minor Actinides Laboratory (PuMA) is based in our Central Laboratory at Sellafield. A modern, unique facility in the UK at the heart of actinide science and separations research and development, plutonium active experiments began in 2010.

Having PuMA means we can use uranium, plutonium and minor actinides in experimental and characterisation studies. Using real material is essential to advancing knowledge of real-life processes and behaviours involving actinides. We work with significant quantities of Pu and support a range of UK reprocessing operations, the core activity of NNL for more than 50 years. Our PuMA facilities also contribute to important international investigations of advanced recycling technologies:

  • 18-stage small scale Pu-TRU mixer settler battery - PUREX (SX HNO3/TBP-OK)
  • 20-stage U-Np mini-centrifugal contactor cascade
  • 30-stage Pu-TRU mini-centrifugal contactor cascade
  • On- and off-line analytical methods including:
  • UV/vis/NIR spectrophotometry
  • Gamma spectroscopy
  • Alpha spectroscopy
  • Raman spectroscopy
  • Liquid scintillation counting

ACSEPT (Actinide recycling and Separations through Partitioning and transmutations):

NNL is part of a multi disciplinary consortium composed of 34 partners from 12 European countries plus Australia and Japan.

Actinide recycling by separation and transmutation is considered globally as one of the most promising strategies to reduce the inventory of radioactive waste, and is key to making nuclear energy sustainable.

The Collaborative Project ACSEPT will provide a structured R&D framework to develop chemical separation processes compatible with fuel fabrication techniques. All with a view to their future demonstration at the pilot level. Considering technically mature aqueous separation processes, ACSEPT will also select the most promising options dedicated to actinide partitioning and those featuring a group separation. These developments will be appropriately balanced with exploratory research focused on the design of new molecules.

Parallel to this, promising group actinide separation pyro-processes will be developed beyond the current state-of-the-art, as a long-term alternative. ACSEPT will also pave the way towards more integration between Partitioning and Transmutation by carrying dissolution as well as actinide conversion studies.

  • GANEX (grouped actinide extractions). We're currently developing an advanced spent fuel recycle process aimed at improving the long-term sustainability of nuclear fuel cycle in the EU. This is part of the EU Framework 7 project, which in turn is for the ACSEPT project
  • NUEX aqueous separations flowsheet for Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Program (GNEPP), an evolution of PUREX technology with increased proliferation resistance
  • Experimental and modelling data supporting the implementation of the MAGNOX low acid flowsheet was developed, saving tens of millions by reducing waste
  • Development of the advanced PUREX flowsheet; the use of hydroxamic acid to recover transuranic actinides is a major innovation