Project to Mature Kurion’s Modular Detritiation System for Possible Deployment at Fukushima Technology to Offer Tritium Treatment Alternative to Commercial Nuclear Power Plant Operators, Creating Zero-Liquid Release Plants.
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Kurion, Inc., an innovator in nuclear and hazardous waste management, announced that it received a grant of one billion Japanese Yen (approximately 10 million USD) from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to demonstrate the company’s cost-effective tritium-removal technology for possible deployment at Fukushima. Kurion’s Modular Detritiation System is one of three technologies approved for the “Demonstration Project for Verification Tests of Tritium Separation Technologies” from a field of 182 submissions. Kurion has played an active role in the cleanup at Fukushima since the development of its cesium-adsorption system in 2011 in the weeks following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the site; this agreement represents the company’s fourth major project to assist the site.
“We are honored to be selected by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to demonstrate the economical effectiveness of Kurion’s detritiation technology,” said Kurion Founder and President John Raymont. “We have assembled a team of globally renowned experts to monitor the project and attest to the efficacy, scalability and economics of our technology to successfully treat the tritium accumulating at the Fukushima site. The demonstration project will begin immediately and will take place at Kurion’s detritiation facility.”
The Tritium Challenge at Fukushima
Today there are more than 400,000 tons of contaminated water stored in tanks at Fukushima, a number that is growing at the rate of 400 tons per day. Submissions for the tritium-removal project required the ability to treat 800,000 tons of tritiated water. TEPCO has already installed two types of systems to remove contaminants from the stored water: Kurion’s Mobile Processing System (KMPS) and the Multi-nuclide Removal Systems known as ALPS.
While the KMPS and ALPS remove contaminants in the water, they do not remove tritium. That is because the decontamination of tritium (T) is particularly problematic: it is a special form of hydrogen that forms tritiated water (HTO vs. H2O), which does not lend itself to removal by conventional technologies. This is due to the fact that the water molecule itself is modified, rather than the contaminant being carried along in water in suspended or dissolved form. As a result, tritiated water is particularly difficult to treat and can spread easily if it escapes into the environment.
Raymont added, “We recognize the urgency of the situation as water accumulates at the Fukushima site. While the specified completion date for the project is March 2016, it is our goal to accelerate the demonstration project and provide the necessary data by the end of 2015 to enable the METI, TEPCO and the Japanese people to make an informed decision about the tritium contamination at Fukushima.”
At the Fukushima site, space is another constraint. Kurion’s modular system has a small footprint, and it can scale rapidly to process the water in the required time frame to minimize additional storage requirements.
“The Kurion approach for treating tritium at Fukushima offers TEPCO an unlikely option and benefit: it creates a significant Hydrogen feedstock for Japan’s ‘hydrogen economy’ and supports the METI 2015 Hydrogen Initiative to establish hydrogen as an energy source for cars. The 800,000 tons of tritiated water at Fukushima would generate about 90,000 tons of H2,” said Raymont.
The Challenge of Economically Removing Tritium
The industrial process of removing tritium from water has historically focused on cleaning highly contaminated “heavy water” for recycling back into nuclear reactors, such as the process used for CANDU reactors. However, this technology is prohibitively expensive for use with light water reactors. Kurion’s Modular Detritiation System is a unique, patent-pending technology based on advances to the proven heavy water Combined Electrolysis Catalytic Exchange (CECE) process. The system converts tritiated water (HTO) to gaseous Hydrogen (H2), gaseous Oxygen (O2) and gaseous Tritium (HT); it then separates Tritium (T) for stabilization, enabling the safe disposition of the clean H2 and O2 gas streams (e.g., resold as chemical feedstock, flared to atmosphere, or recombined as H2O).
“Kurion has performed extensive tests on our Modular Detritiation System using a simulant of the contaminated water at the same tritium concentration levels found at the Fukushima site,” said Dr. Gaëtan Bonhomme, Kurion’s Chief Technology Officer, who led the demonstration of the detritiation technology. “These tests on tritiated water indicate that Kurion’s system successfully isolates the tritium, significantly reduces the volume of final waste, and can scale to meet the challenge at Fukushima.”
Many detritiation solutions have difficulty achieving an adequate decontamination factor when starting at low contamination factors. Kurion achieves this by adjusting certain parameters of its equipment and internal recycles. As a result, Kurion can uniquely modify the system’s goals to meet customer objectives. The system does not produce any liquid waste and concentrates the tritium so the small volume can be easily dispositioned.
Global Applications for Tritium-Removal in Commercial Nuclear Sector
Bill Gallo, Kurion CEO, added, “Kurion’s detritiation technology also has possible long-term applications for commercial nuclear plants. As we mature this technology, our goal is to provide operators of light pressurized water reactors an economical alternative to the controlled release of tritium into the environment and allow them to achieve a zero-liquid release status. This would eliminate community concerns and strengthen nuclear energy’s status as a clean energy source.”