Nuclear fuel bars|
The most important zirconium compound, the zircon, is used as refractory material for mould-casting, as abrasive and as constituent of insulating materials, enamels and other resistant to the temperature materials. It is also used as an artificial semi-precious stone, imitating diamond. Zirconium oxide is used as refractory material in the production of piezoelectric crystals and rings of high frequency induction reels, due to its low resistance to high temperature. It is still used as pigment in the ceramic industry. More than 80% of the produced zirconium is consumed in the form of these two compounds.
Other zirconium compounds have interesting properties and important applications. Thus, the carbide and the nitride with their high hardness, are used in producing abrasives and sharp edged instruments; the hydride is an hydrogen source and can be used as moderator in nuclear reactors; the double ammonium carbide and zirconile are used in preparing hydrophobic fluids and water-proof coatings; the phosphate, the molybdate and the tungstate are used as ion permuters, especially selective for alkali metals.
Metallic zirconium is the best construction material for nuclear reactors due to its low neutron cross section, high mechanical and chemical resistance and appropriate thermal conductivity. It is also used in the manufacture of zircaloy alloys that contain tin, iron and chromium in small amounts. Other smaller applications include flash production for photography, explosive, fireworks, tracer bullets, small rockets, etc.