Radiological Safety Traning for Uranium Facilities
Module 102 - The Nuclear Fuel Cycle
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 plutonium.
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:
Excess metal was mechanically removed to expose the fuel material.
The fuel was leached with acid to remove it from the claddi ng.
The uranium and other elements were separated by solvent extraction (chemical
The uranium was converted back to UF6 for enrichment.
Waste Dispo sal and Stora ge
Due to the remaining radioactive properties, the nuclear fuel cycle byproducts must be
controlled and/or disposed. T hese byproducts can be divided into two cate gories--low-
level waste (LLW) and high-level waste (HLW).
The RCM glossary defines low-level waste (LLW) as "Waste that contains
radioactivity and is not classified as high-level waste, transuranic waste, spent
nuclear fuel, or byproduct material as defined in Section 11e(2) of the Atomic
Energy Act, as amended. Test specimens of fissionable material irradiated only
for research and development and not for production of power or plutonium may