PerspectiveNuclear Materials

Taking the measure of molten uranium oxide

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Science  21 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6212, pp. 916-917
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0163

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Uranium dioxide (UO2) occurs as the mineral uraninite and is the most common fuel in nuclear reactors. Its high melting point (near 3140 K) makes studying its properties near, at, and above this temperature difficult for both experimental and theoretical approaches, but understanding molten UO2 is critical for understanding how the melt would interact with the container materials of a nuclear reactor. However, the sensitivity of stoichiometry of UO2 to oxygen content in the atmosphere and, most importantly, the lack of unreactive container materials also make experiments challenging. Nonetheless, on page 984 of this issue, Skinner et al. (1) use sample levitation and laser heating combined with synchrotron x-ray diffraction to study the structure of UO2 both just below and directly above its melting point.