Shape controlled thorium dioxide precipitation routes

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
March 23, 2023
Offerd Salary:Negotiation
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Contract Type:Other
Working Time:Negotigation
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Shape controlled thorium dioxide precipitation routes

(ref. BAP-2023-26)

Last modification : Monday, January 23, 2023

The researcher will be active in the expert group on Fuel Materials at SCK CEN in Mol (https: // www. The daily supervision of the PhD will be done by SCK CEN Mentor Dr. Beatriz Acevedo Muñoz, [email protected], (phone +32(0)14333261) and SCK CEN Co-mentor Dr. Marc Verwerft, [email protected], (phone +32(0)14333048). The University promotor will be Prof. dr. ir. Jozef (Jef) Vleugels, [email protected], (+32 (0)16 321244) from the Department of Materials Engineering of KU Leuven (https:// www.



The increasing interest of thorium in the recent years is due to its promising application in several fields including nuclear fuel, catalyst, nuclear medicine, optical coatings, etc., but also because of the existence of large stockpiles of thorium nitrate, generated as a side product of increased rare earth metal mining that will have to be considered as costly radioactive waste without proper valorisation.

The most stable form of thorium, thorium(IV)oxide or thoria (ThO2), has been considered worldwide as a potential nuclear fuel since many decades due to its high abundance in the earth crust and a lower generation of transuranium elements in the thorium fuel cycle compared to its uranium analogue. Thoria is also used in the fabrication of thorium-based spallation targets for accelerator-production of isotopes, and asThO2-based catalysts for the oxidative coupling of methane with molecular oxygen to produce higher hydrocarbons.

Recent work, both internationally and at SCK CEN, focused on ThO2 powder production routes to improve its sintering potential. Oxalate conversion is the most well-known manufacturing method for ThO2 powder production. This route converts aqueous thorium nitrate solutions to solid ThO2 powders by means of precipitation-filtration and calcination. Research at SCK CEN on the impact of process variables on powder properties successfully resulted in optimized oxalate production processes. A fundamental drawback of the oxalate process, however, remains the 228Ra in the liquid process waste. We recently developed a new two-steps precipitation process in which 228Ra is removed from the liquid waste. Process variation effects and scalability of the novel precipitation route remain to be studied.

Research Project:

A comprehensive, systematic study about the influence of the variables in each step of the new process is required, as well as the identification of the final properties of thoria powder for the intended applications. Additionally, the scrap recycling route for out-of-spec thoria is compulsory to make a larger scale production process practical.

The PhD thesis will focus on the development of a flexible process in which it will be possible to tune the parameters towards end product characteristics, but also concerning minimisation of nuclear liquid waste generation. The PhD student will modify the conditions of the precipitation and calcination steps in the new two-steps precipitation conversion approach and study the effect on the ThO2 powder obtained. The characteristics of the powders will be analysed by means of advanced characterization techniques available at SCK CEN such as high-resolution thermal analysis equipment coupled with a mass spectrometer(TGA-MS), dilatometer, X-ray diffraction (XRD), electron microscopy (SEM), physisorption analysis, etc. Additionally, he/she will perform experiments to improve the re-processing of production residues. He/she will be involved in the scale-up study of the process and contribute to the application-specific parameter optimization.

  • Master of Sciences,
  • Master of Sciences in Engineering,
  • Master in Nuclear Engineering,
  • Master in Materials Engineering,
  • or an equivalent master degree in Chemistry, Material Science or Chemical Engineering.
  • The candidate preferably has a background in Chemistry, Material Science or Chemical Engineering


    Ph.D. fellowship for the duration of a maximum of 4 years.

    The candidate will have to pass the selection campaign of the Scientific Council of SCK CEN, by an oral defense of the research theme on May 30-31, 2023.

    Before applying, please consult the guidelines for application. The full procedure is explained at: https: // www. theses-post-docs/phd-theses

    Deadline for application: March 23, 2023 First step: selection based on application file: May 3-4, 2023 Second step: oral presentation of the research topic: May 30-31, 2023

    Notification final result: June 30, 2023 Standard starting date of the PhD research: October1, 2023 (earliest)


    For more information please contact

    Prof. dr. ir. Jozef (Jef) Vleugels, Phone: +32 16 32 12 44, mail: [email protected]

    SCK CEN Mentor Dr. Beatriz Acevedo Muñoz, [email protected], phone+32 14333261

    SCK CEN Co-mentor Dr. Marc Verwerft, [email protected], phone +32 14 333048

    KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at [email protected]

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