Nuclear fuel cycle
Holbert, Keith School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.
Last reviewed:August 2019
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- Raw materials
- Uranium resources and mining
- Enrichment methods
- Fuel fabrication
- Interim storage and cooling
- Reprocessing of spent fuel
- Once-through fuel cycle
- Nuclear waste disposal options
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The series of processes whereby uranium or another nuclear fuel is obtained, utilized as an energy source in a nuclear reactor, and then disposed of or recycled. The nuclear fuel cycle is an integral part of electricity generation at nuclear power plants, supplying the uranium fuel necessary for reactor operation. Excluding fuel loading and operations at a nuclear plant, the cycle typically involves the following steps: (1) finding and mining uranium ore (Fig. 1); (2) refining the uranium from other elements; (3) enriching the uranium-235 content to 3–5%; (4) fabricating fuel pellets; (5) interim storage and cooling of spent fuel; (6) reprocessing of spent fuel to recover uranium and plutonium (optional); (7) fabricating recycled fuel for added energy production (optional); (8) cooling of spent fuel or reprocessing waste and its potential transport to a repository for disposal in secure long-term storage. See also: Electric power generation; Nuclear fuels; Nuclear power; Nuclear reactor; Plutonium; Uranium
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