Yellowcake, or uranium concentrate, produced by mines cannot be used directly as a nuclear fuel. Specialized processing and fuel bundle fabrication are required before that can occur. First the uranium concentrate is refined to remove impurities and change its chemical form to UO3. Then the UO3 is chemically converted into one of two different uranium compounds, UO2 or UF6, depending on the type of reactor to be fuelled. UF6 moves on to enrichment for use in light water reactors, while UO2 moves directly to manufacturing where fuel assemblies for heavy water reactors are constructed.

Refining and Conversion

An overview of the first two stages in nuclear fuel processing.

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For light water reactors, higher concentrations of U235 are needed.

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Fuel Manufacturing

Putting it all together – a look at how fuel pellets and assemblies are manufactured.

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One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.