Among the Intermediate Level Waste materials in store and awaiting treatment and processing in the UK are quantities of magnesium hydroxide sludge. This sludge is a product of radioactive magnox swarf which arose from the decanning of used magnox fuel element rods. As the swarf was stored underwater, a corrosion reaction occurred over the course of time between the magnox and the water resulting in a magnesium hydroxide based sludge. The differing conditions and materials present in the various storage areas means that the sludge can range in consistency from that of a slurry through to a thick clay.
Sludge test materials are required to underpin and validate the research and development equipment and processes that are to be used to treat the waste material. Necessary restrictions imposed on the sampling and testing of the radioactive waste means that the available data on the properties and behaviour of the sludge is limited. The raw materials used to create the sludge test materials are based upon magnesium hydroxide so that as far as possible the chemical behaviour will be similar to that of the waste material.
The most representative sludge test material is manufactured by the corrosion of non-radioactive magnox or magnesium. However, time constraints make it impractical to supply this material in sufficient quantities for full scale validation trials. An alternative is to use sludge manufactured from commercially available magnesium hydroxide. The particle shape of commercially available materials differs from corrosion product magnesium hydroxide which means that properties such as the rheological behaviour cannot be replicated. Nevertheless, valuable trial data can be obtained, giving a greater degree of confidence in the waste treatment process than would be possible if only the more representative but less available corrosion product materials were to be used.
Key test material parameters used in the trials have been identified as the particle size distribution and the sludge thickness (measured as yield shear strength). Other properties including cohesion, adhesion and rheological behaviour are also considered.
The use of different mixers for sludge manufacture has the potential to affect the behavioural properties and a brief description of each of these mixers is included. The scale of mixing has been found to make a significant difference to the ageing.
A chemical impurity in the commercially available materials has been successfully exploited, so that sludge mixed at comparatively low yield shear strengths can thicken into the consistency of clay. This aids manufacture and allows large quantities of thick material to be produced relatively easily.