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Glass-ceramic matrices containing zirconolite (nominally CaZrTi2O7) as the only crystalline phase in their bulk can be considered as good candidates for actinide-rich nuclear wastes (containing minor actinides or Pu) immobilization. In this study, three different methods are envisaged and compared to prepare such waste forms using neodymium as trivalent actinides surrogate. Independently on the preparation method, zirconolite is shown to be the only crystalline phase to nucleate in the bulk. However, crystallization of silicate phases (titanite CaTiSiO5 + anorthite CaAl2Si2O8) can occur from samples surface and can compete with zirconolite crystallization. The effect of the crystal growth thermal treatment duration (2–300 h) at high temperature (1050–1200°C) on glass-ceramics structure and microstructure is studied. In the oxides system studied here, it appears that zirconolite is not thermodynamically stable in comparison with titanite but, for kinetics reasons, such transformation will not occur during waste forms disposal.
Zirconolite (formally CaZrTi2O7) is a crystalline phase particularly well adapted to actinide immobilization because of its excellent long-term behavior and its good containment capacity. Most of the French studies on zirconolite deal with minor actinides that are mainly responsible for the long-term radiotoxicity of high-level radioactive wastes. For these kind of studies, trivalent minor actinides (Am3+, Cm3+) can be simulated by a lanthanide ion with an ionic radius similar to that of Nd3+. Thus, several materials having the composition Ca1-xNdxZrTi2-xAlxO7 (0 ≤ x ≤ 0.8) were prepared by solid state reaction. These polycristalline materials were first characterized by X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy associated with energy dispersive X-ray analysis in order to determine the nature of the crystalline phases formed. For low neodymium content (x ≤ 0.1), electron spin resonance of Nd3+ ions revealed that a significant proportion of these ions entered into trace amounts of perovskite. Nevertheless, all Ca1-xNdxZrTi2-xAlxO7 samples with x ≤ 0.6 can be considered as almost single phase zirconolite-2M. Structure refinement by the Rietveld method of Ca0.7Nd0.3ZrTi1.7Al0.3O7 showed that Nd3+ and Al3+ ions mainly entered respectively into the calcium site and into the split five-fold coordinated titanium site. Structural characterization of Ca0.3Nd0.7ZrTi1.3Al0.7O7 and Ca0.2Nd0.8ZrTi1.2Al0.8O7 samples confirmed that these compositions led to the crystallization of almost single phase zirconolite-3O, an orthorhombic polytype of zirconolite, whose structure was also refined by the Rietveld method. Results concerning neodymium location in Ca0.7Nd0.3ZrTi1.7Al0.3O7 and Ca0.3Nd0.7ZrTi1.3Al0.7O7 were qualitatively confirmed by optical absorption spectroscopy at low temperature.
Zirconolite (CaZrTi2O7) based glass-ceramics, in which the crystalline phase (aimed at preferentially incorporating minor actinides or Pu) is embedded in a durable calcium aluminosilicate glassy matrix, can be envisaged as good waste form candidates. In this study, the effect of parent glass composition – and particularly of TiO2, ZrO2, CaO and Al2O3 amounts -on the microstructure and the structure of the glass-ceramics obtained after controlled devitrification (nucleation + crystal growth) is reported. It clearly appears that the volume percentage of zirconolite crystals and their nucleation rate in the bulk of the glass strongly depends both on (CaO + ZrO2 + TiO2) and Al2O3 amounts in parent glass. Neodymium is mainly used to simulate trivalent minor actinides whereas several samples were also prepared with other lanthanides (Ce, Eu, Gd, Yb) in order to investigate the effect of simulant field strength in glass on the nature and the composition of the crystals formed. The effect of partial or total molar substitution of ZrO2 by HfO2 in parent glass composition was also studied in order to prepare Ca(Zr1-xHfx)Ti2O7 (0 < × ≤ 1) based glass-ceramics which could be interesting in order to minimize criticality problems.
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