Radiological Safety Training for Uranium Facilities
Module 102 The Nuclear Fuel Cycle
Depleted uranium typically is cast into ingots or billets, and then shipped to
production facilities for appropriate reshaping.
Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel is no longer performed in this country. This
information is provided for the purpose of describing how the process worked at
Uranium was used in plutonium production reactors. Uranium fuel and targets were
coated with aluminum or zirconium metal and placed in the reactor. As they were
irradiated with neutrons, a small fraction of the uranium was converted to
The irradiated fuel was then removed from the reactor, but the plutonium and
uranium had to be separated from the fission products created during irradiation.
PUREX, a chemical process for plutonium and uranium extraction from irradiated
nuclear fuel, was developed to accomplish this separation. This reprocessing was
accomplished as follows:
a. Excess metal was mechanically removed to expose the fuel material.
b. The fuel was leached with acid to remove it from the cladding.
c. The uranium and other elements were separated by solvent extraction (chemical
d. The uranium was converted back to UF6 for enrichment.