Konasol selected to produce neutron-absorbing aluminum composite material for spent nuclear fuel

By Lim Chang-won Posted : September 28, 2022, 12:43 Updated : September 28, 2022, 12:43

[Courtesy of the Korea Institute of Materials Science ]

SEOUL -- Konasol, a manufacturer of titanium carbide alloy steels in South Korea, will produce materials for spent nuclear fuel transport and storage containers with technology transferred by a state research body that has manufactured a low-cost casting-based neutron-absorbing aluminum composite material plate of up to two meters.

Using technology from the state-run Korea Institute of Materials Science (KIMS),  Konasol will produce products stretching up to five meters. The development of dual-purpose casks that can transport and store spent nuclear fuel is underway to reduce South Korea's reliance on foreign neutron-absorbing materials which have been imported mainly from U.S. and Japanese companies.

The importance of localizing an aluminum composite material with neutron absorbing power prompted KIMS to manufacture low-cost casting-based composite material plates. Neutron absorber materials are used to prevent the criticality of fuel assemblies in dry casks and spent fuel storage racks. An aluminum or boron carbide metal matrix composite is used for neutron absorber materials. 

"It is meaningful that metal composite materials that are cheaper and have superior properties than conventional powder metallurgy were manufactured," KIMS head Lee Jung-hwan said in a statement on September 28. "We will do our best to localize key materials that safely store and move spent nuclear fuel, a high-level radioactive waste that has been produced domestically and relied on imports."

Piles of spent nuclear fuel rods have been a stringent issue in South Korea due to a U.S. ban on reprocessing to prevent potential proliferation in Northeast Asia. South Korea has no intermediate storage or permanent disposal facilities. Used nuclear fuel has been kept in interim storage facilities. 

Spent fuel rods are first kept in storage pools of water, which provide cooling and shielding against radiation. After 7 to 10 years in wet storage, they can be transferred to dry storage such as concrete canisters, modular air-cooled canister storage (MACSTOR) units and dry storage containers. In June 2022, the government of President Yoon Suk-yeol endorsed the proposed spending of 348 billion won ($242 million) from 2023 to 2030 to develop technologies for the dismantling of defunct reactors. 
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