Study of the U-Am-O ternary phase diagram

Abstract : Americium isotopes are the main contributors to the long-term radiotoxicity of the nuclear wastes, after the plutonium extraction. Among the reprocessing scenarios, the transmutation in fast neutron reactors using uranium-americium mixed oxide (U,Am)O2±x pellets seems promising. In this frame, the knowledge of the thermodynamics of the U-Am-O ternary system is of essential for the prediction of the behavior of (U,Am)O2 pellets and their possible interaction with the cladding, under normal and accidental conditions. This thesis is dedicated to the experimental investigation of U-Am mixed oxides on a wide range of Am contents (7.5 at.% ≤ Am/(Am+U) ≤ 70 at.%), with the aim to collect data for developing a thermodynamic model based on the semi-empirical CALPHAD method. The obtained results can be classified in three categories: structural, phase diagram and thermodynamic data. For the thermodynamic modeling of the ternary system, the assessment of the binary sub-systems is first required. As open questions still existed on the Am-O system, a first part of the work was dedicated to the study of the Am-O phase diagram by high-temperature (HT) XRD. The existence of a composition range of the bcc AmO1.61 phase was highlighted and the miscibility gap in the fluorite phase, proposed in the literature, was not found. Thanks to the new experimental data, the existing CALPHAD model of Gotcu et al. was modified. In a second step, structural investigations were performed on synthesized (U,Am)O2±x dioxides by coupling XRD, XAS and Raman spectroscopy. For all the compositions, the XRD confirmed the formation of a single fluorite structure. The O/M ratio (with M=U+Am) at room temperature was determined to be lower than 2; the stability of trivalent americium Am3+ in the dioxide solid solution was highlighted, which induces a partial oxidation of uranium from U4+ to U5+. This charge distribution, peculiar for a dioxide, is accompanied by the formation of complex oxygen defects in the fluorite structure. By a HT-XRD investigation of the mixed oxides under air combined with XAS characterization of the oxidized samples, it was shown that the presence of Am3+ leads to a stabilization of the dioxide fluorite phase toward the formation of oxides richer in oxygen, in comparison to the U-O system. New phase diagram data were obtained in the oxygen rich region at 1470 K: tie-lines in the M4O9-M3O8 and MO2+x-M3O8 domains were determined and the solubility of americium in the M4O9 and M3O8 oxides was estimated. The investigation of the U-Am-O phase diagram continued at higher temperature with the study of the solidus/liquidus transitions using a laser-heating technique, under argon and air, and post-melting characterizations conducted by SEM and XAS. The melting temperature of Am-U dioxides decreases with the increase of both the Am/(Am+U) and O/M ratios. Finally, thermodynamic properties of the U1-yAmyO2±x oxides were measured: enthalpy increments using drop calorimetry, partial vapor pressures by Knudsen cell effusion mass spectrometry (KEMS). An excess contribution to the heat capacity at high temperature was observed and this was attributed to the reduction of the dioxides at high temperature (formation of oxygen vacancies). The KEMS results lead to determine the congruent vaporization composition at 2300 K, for a Am/(Am+U) ratio of 0.6 and an O/M ratio lower than 1.9. Finally, the CALPHAD thermodynamic assessment of the U-Am-O system was started, by focusing the attention on the modelling of the fluorite phase. A good agreement between the model and the oxygen potential data for (U0.5Am0.5O2±x) and the cation distribution was achieved. Furthermore, the model is able to satisfactorily reproduce the KEMS data and hence the equilibrium between the dioxide and gas phase. For the perspectives of this work, the optimization of the thermodynamic model should be extended to describe the phase equilibria involving the M4O9, M3O8 oxides and the liquid phase.
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Enrica Epifano. Study of the U-Am-O ternary phase diagram. Inorganic chemistry. Université Paris-Saclay, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017SACLX084⟩. ⟨tel-01852208⟩

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