To share the story of pyrochemical processing, AFCP has launched a new animation available for educators, nuclear science specialists and the wider public. Lucy Platts, Reactor Chemist, on AFCP’s Pyro-processing project, explains the significance of education and engagement in securing a clean energy future.
The video opens with a dark blue screen. The Earth appears, rotating in space. Across the world, large, white, stylised icons pop up on different land areas. The icons represent different clean energy types: Solar panels, wind turbines, and atoms for nuclear energy. The narration, a British woman’s voice, begins:
Across the world, people are exploring ways to create more sustainable power solutions for our planet.
The following white text appears on screen next to the Earth: More sustainable power solutions.
The animation transitions to a landscape scene, showing green grass and a bright blue sky with clouds floating about. A nuclear power plant appears, with power lines alongside it. Small yellow lightning bolts appear above the power lines, indicating power generation.
We already know that nuclear power presents a reliable source of clean energy. Many countries have run successful nuclear programmes for several decades, using uranium to fuel their reactors.
The periodic table icon for uranium floats on screen, in the blue sky behind a cloud. It’s outlined by white line with the following text inside: U, uranium 238.029. The icon shrinks in size and moves downward into the nuclear power plant.
The animation transitions to another landscape scene, showing a mining site. A large pit is being dug into the ground, with various trucks and machinery throughout. The surrounding landscape has green trees and grey rocks.
As a natural element taken from the earth’s crust, uranium is both available and when used in energy production, generates far less carbon emissions than fossil fuels.
On the land above the mining pit, several white wind turbines and solar panels appear.
Working alongside renewable solutions like wind and solar to produce a consistent energy source.
The animation transitions to a blue screen with a white border. The following text appears letter-by-letter on screen, with typewriter sound effects: How does uranium fuel create power?
The animation transitions to a new scene with a grey background, showing a pink and green atom to represent uranium. In the background, a few lone green circles – representing neutrons – float around.
When irradiated, uranium becomes unstable
The large green and pink neutron splits in two smaller versions with a popping sound effect. An orange circle appears behind the two atoms, representing the loss of heat during this split.
and splits into smaller atoms through a highly exothermic process called fission.
Two white brackets appear on the left and right of the two atoms, with the following text typed out on the right: Fission.
This releases neutrons
White brackets appear on either side of the few lone green circles in the background, with the following text typed out alongside them: Neutrons.
which go on to collide with other uranium nuclei
More pink and green uranium atoms appear on screen as the original orange circle behind them fades away.
causing a chain reaction.
The various uranium atoms separate, splitting into two with a popping noise as orange circles appear behind them. This releases more lone, green neutrons that float around in the grey background.
It is the heat from this process that is harnessed to generate electricity.
The animation quickly zooms out, revealing that the last scene took place within one of several grey rods bundled together in a large grey cylinder. The cylinder sits on the floor of a dark blue room. A zoomed-in circle appears above one of the rods, showing an inside view of the uranium atoms within it. The zoom-in shows lots of tightly packed, moving, green and pink atoms with a few purple circles floating around the grey background.
Over time, due to a build-up of fission products
The following text appears on screen, with a line pointing to one of the purple circles in the rod: Fission products.
which absorb the neutrons, the fuel becomes less efficient.
The white text disappears, and the zoomed-in circle decreases in size, fading back into the rod. That rod is then lifted out of the cylinder while a new one replaces it.
At this point, it is replaced with a fresh supply to keep the power plant operational.
Together, the bundle of rods is lifted out of the cylinder, revealing orange coloration near the bottom of them, representing heat. Slowly, the orange colour fades away.
When removed from the reactor, the old fuel is thermally hot and highly radioactive.
A bundle of four rods near the front breaks away as the rest of the rods move off-screen at the top of the frame. The four rods are encapsulated by a yellow tube, which is closed by a dome-shaped cap.
To cool it down and reduce the level of radioactivity, it is placed in water for at least 5 years.
The yellow tube moves down screen into a pool of light blue water within the dark blue floor.
The animation transitions to a new landscape scene, showing two blue towers situated over holes in the earth. The towers are atop green grass with a blue, partially cloudy sky behind them. The frame zooms in to the tower on the right, showing an inside view of nine yellow, rod-filled tubes being lowered into an underground storage tunnel using a cable.
Eventually, it is removed and processed for burial deep underground.
The animation transitions to a blue screen with a white border. The following text appears letter-by-letter on screen, with typewriter sound effects: Open fuel cycle.
Many countries with nuclear programmes have adopted an ‘open fuel cycle’.
White icons appear on screen, animated to move back and forth. The icons are a pickaxe with the text Mining underneath, a nuclear power plant with the text Reactor underneath and two cylinders with the text Disposal underneath. The icons are connected by two large white arrows, showing that the process moves from mining to reactor to disposal.
This means fuel is only used once in the reactor before being disposed of.
The animation transitions again the dark blue background and grey rod, showing an inside view of the various green and pink uranium atoms within it. There are a few purple fission product circles as well as one yellow circle.
Yet the fission products account for just 4% of the used fuel, with the rest made up of material still fit for purpose.
White labels appear on screen to label the different items within the rod: Uranium, 95% (pointing to the green and pink atoms), Fission products, 4% (pointing to the purple circles) and Transuranic elements, 1% (pointing to the one yellow circle). These percentages represent the relative amount of each item within the used fuel rod.
The animation transitions to a new scene, showing a team of scientists in the lab. They each wear a green lab coat and are handling various chemicals and materials at a bench.
Researchers are now looking at effective methods to recycle the fuel,
The screen splits diagonally in the middle, showing the lab scientists on the left. On the right is an engineer in the dark blue room, standing next to the large grey cylinder full of fuel rods. They wear a yellow hard hat and hold a clip board.
with scientists and engineers exploring improved ways to separate the useful materials from the fission products.
A screen appears behind the engineer on the right, which they point to. A white recycle sign then appears on the large grey cylinder, indicating that these materials can be recycled.
The animation transitions to the original landscape scene, showing green grass and a bright blue sky with clouds floating throughout. A nuclear power plant sits on this landscape, with power lines alongside it. Small lightning bolts appear above the power line, indicating power generation.
Creating new fuel that can be put back into a nuclear reactor and used again.
The scene zooms in to the nuclear power plant. A green recycle symbol appears on one of the buildings. The scene then slowly zooms out, panning to the left to show the electricity being generated by the plant.
That’s a greater, more sustainable energy source than before.
The animation transitions to a blue screen with a white border. The following text appears letter-by-letter on screen, with typewriter sound effects: Pyrochemical processing.
One method for separating the fuel elements is called pyrochemical processing,
The two words collide into the following text: Pyro-processing.
also known as pyro-processing,
The zoom-in circle of the grey fuel rod appears again, replacing the text in the centre of screen. It shows the various uranium atoms, transuranic elements and fission products inside.
which takes advantage of the properties of liquid salt to allow the removal of the fission products from the used fuel.
The purple circles, representing fission products, fly out of the grey fuel rod. The circle shrinks in size, again revealing a solid blue background with white border. The following text appears on screen, with typewriter sound effects: Here’s how it works.
The animation transitions to a scene with a bright blue background. The white outline of a beaker appears, with the following text on each end of it: LiCl and KCl.
A mixture of lithium and potassium chloride salt
Lots of white circles, representing salt, fall into the open beaker form the top of the screen. They settle into the bottom of the beaker.
is heated to about 500 degrees Celsius
Four orange and yellow flames appear at the bottom of the beaker. The salt circles slowly fade into one solid, white-coloured mass.
where the salt becomes liquid and behaves as a solvent.
The beaker swipes down, revealing a solid bright blue screen. A grey basket appears at the top of the screen, suspended by a grey cable.
Used fuel is placed in a basket
Six grey fuel rods fall into the basket, which is slowly lowered down into the beaker full of white salt.
and immersed in the salt, where it acts as the anode.
The following text appears next to the basket: Anode. The animation slowly zooms out to reveal a yellow lighting symbol over the basket cable, representing electricity generation. A large grey rod, suspended on the right of the salt-filled beaker, is connected to this cable.
An electric current is then applied to form an ‘electrochemical cell’, with the useful materials drawn to the cathode
From the grey rods within the basket, yellow and purple circles move outward. These circles represent transuranic elements and fission products. The yellow transuranic elements move toward the large grey rod on the right of the beaker, while the purple fission products fall to the bottom of the beaker. The following text appears next to the large grey rod on the right: Cathode.
where they are deposited, collected and prepared for reuse.
The yellow fission products attach to the cathode.
Once recycled, the fuel heads back to the reactor once again
A large blue arrow appears to the right of the grey cathode rod. It points to the outside of the beaker. The following text appears to label the arrow: Reactor. The yellow transuranic elements move through the arrow, out of the beaker and into the bright blue background.
while the 4% fission product is encapsulated in glass for safe storage.
The purple circles, which initially fell from the basket to the bottom of the beaker, move together into the centre of the beaker. A light blue material surrounds them, representing the fission products becoming encapsulated in glass, as the background image of the beaker blurs out. The glass-encapsulated purple circles quickly swipe off screen to the bottom of the frame
The animation transitions to the landscape scene showing a mining pit. It slowly zooms out, revealing the pit as trees grow along its perimeter.
Since pyro-processing allows used fuel to be recycled, it makes nuclear less reliant on the continuous mining of natural uranium,
The mining pit slowly fills with blue water, becoming a lake. More trees grow along the landscape as birds chirp in the background.
becoming a highly sustainable solution – as well as one that protects our environment and our health.
The animation transitions to a blue screen with a white border. It shows the original open fuel cycle – with icons, arrows and text showing Mining, Reactor and Disposal – on the screen. The disposal icon is replaced by a recycle symbol with the following text underneath it: Pyro-processing.
Some researchers say, introducing pyro-processing to the nuclear energy production cycle
An arrow appears, connecting the recycling from pyro-processing to the nuclear reactor. This closes the open fuel cycle. A scene zooms out, revealing that this blue screen as a blackboard in a room. A researcher appears to the right of the blackboard, pointing to the recycle symbol.
presents a more environmentally responsible,
The animation rapidly zooms out of the room, revealing several houses in a neighbourhood along a landscape.
efficient, and cost-effective source of energy than anything we have today.
The animation again rapidly zooms out of the neighbourhood, revealing the Earth again rotating in space. The following text appears on screen to the left of the Earth: What do you think?
What do you think?
The music and scene fade out to a plain white screen. The Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme (AFCP) and A-CINCH logos appear, followed by the logos for the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).