Uranium Hexafluoride, Recycling and US Workers'
UF6 is the chemical symbol for uranium hexafluoride. Scientists sometimes
refer to it as DUF6.
To produce enriched uranium, one must first convert it into UF6. It
is a part of the enrichment process. Gaseous diffusion, the process
used to extract enriched uranium from UF6, produces four tonnes of
depleted uranium for every tonne of enriched uranium. Therefore DUF6
constitutes a huge proportion of the United States' nuclear waste:
France stores its waste in a different form. (I have been unable to
find out in what form the UK stores its DU) It is unstable and difficult
and expensive to store, posing a threat to workers and the surrounding
environment. The DU used in munitions in Iraq and the Gulf War came
from this source.
In the United States the government have come up with a proposal to
process DUF6 back into uranium metal and use it in industry - as counterweights
in lifts and fork lift trucks for example. In July 1988, President
Clinton signed the 'Uranium Recycling Bill'. It provides $400 million
to the UF6 storage plants in Ohio and Kentucky to treat and recycle
UF6. Construction is due to start in January 2000. Industry has already
used DU for ballast in aeroplane wings and in ships. It is possible
that these products could be arriving in the UK without any clear
The use of DU in ordinary industrial machinery could have more far
reaching effects than the use of DU in munitions. However, the problems
associated with the use of DU in munitions remain. IEER in the United
States have some practicable proposals for storage of UF6. They suggest
ways to make it safe in terms of proliferation: for example, processing
it in such a way that it would be difficult to enrich for use in power
stations or nuclear weapons. They also suggest ways to store it safely.
Watch this space for further developments.