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Nuclear fuel cycle

  • The nuclear fuel cycle is the series of industrial processes which involve the production of electricity from uranium in nuclear power reactors.
  • Uranium is a relatively common element that is found throughout the world. It is mined in a number of countries and must be processed before it can be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor.
  • Fuel removed from a reactor, after it has reached the end of its useful life, can be reprocessed to produce new fuel.

The various activities associated with the production of electricity from nuclear reactions are referred to collectively as the nuclear fuel cycle. The nuclear fuel cycle starts with the mining of uranium and ends with the disposal of nuclear waste. With the reprocessing of used fuel as an option for nuclear energy, the stages form a true cycle.

To prepare uranium for use in a nuclear reactor, it undergoes the steps of mining and milling, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication. These steps make up the 'front end' of the nuclear fuel cycle.

After uranium has spent about three years in a reactor to produce electricity, the used fuel may undergo a further series of steps including temporary storage, reprocessing, and recycling before wastes are disposed. Collectively these steps are known as the 'back end' of the fuel cycle.

Source: World Nuclear Association

Further information on the various steps of the nuclear fuel cycle can be found at http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Introduction/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle-Overview/