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Chapter 7: Energy Technologies

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NUCLEAR FUEL REPROCESSING 

As the pilot plant for plutonium separation, the Laboratory took the lead in processing nuclear fuel during World War II. Design and operation of its separations building, adjacent to the Graphite Reactor, provided a prototype for the concrete "canyons" built at Hanford, Washington. 

After the war, plans called for constructing a plant that would use the wartime precipitation methods to process fuel from the Materials Testing Reactor. John Swartout of the Chemistry Division and Frank Steahly of the Chemical Technology Division insisted, however, that the solvent-extraction method was more efficient and less costly than the precipitation method for recovering uranium and plutonium from spent fuel. As a result, the "25 solvent-extraction process" was adopted and used in the plant built in Idaho. 

During the following decades, Laboratory teams headed by Floyd Culler, Frank Bruce, Raymond Wymer, William Unger, and others set the pace in the design and piloting of nuclear fuel reprocessing plants. Their designs became the basis for immense processing plants built at Hanford; Savannah River, South Carolina; and elsewhere throughout the world. Although their plans to recover plutonium from the Clinch River Breeder Reactor were suspended along with the reactor itself, the technology Laboratory researchers developed proved useful in the 1990s when the Laboratory cooperated with Japanese scientists in design of breeder reactor processing plants. 

This technology, developed by the Fuel Recycle Division under William Burch, included remotely controlled "servomanipulators" for work in environments too hazardous for humans. The division's growing expertise in remote handling technology led to its change in name to the Robotics and Process Systems Division. 

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