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Title: Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing

Reprocessing is essential to closing nuclear fuel cycle. Natural uranium contains only 0.7 percent 235U, the fissile (see glossary for technical terms) isotope that produces most of the fission energy in a nuclear power plant. Prior to being used in commercial nuclear fuel, uranium is typically enriched to 3–5% in 235U. If the enrichment process discards depleted uranium at 0.2 percent 235U, it takes more than seven tonnes of uranium feed to produce one tonne of 4%-enriched uranium. Nuclear fuel discharged at the end of its economic lifetime contains less one percent 235U, but still more than the natural ore. Less than one percent of the uranium that enters the fuel cycle is actually used in a single pass through the reactor. The other naturally occurring isotope, 238U, directly contributes in a minor way to power generation. However, its main role is to transmute into plutoniumby neutron capture and subsequent radioactive decay of unstable uraniumand neptuniumisotopes. 239Pu and 241Pu are fissile isotopes that produce more than 40% of the fission energy in commercially deployed reactors. It is recovery of the plutonium (and to a lesser extent the uranium) for use in recycled nuclear fuel that has been the primary focusmore » of commercial reprocessing. Uraniumtargets irradiated in special purpose reactors are also reprocessed to obtain the fission product 99Mo, the parent isotope of technetium, which is widely used inmedical procedures. Among the fission products, recovery of such expensive metals as platinum and rhodium is technically achievable, but not economically viable in current market and regulatory conditions. During the past 60 years, many different techniques for reprocessing used nuclear fuel have been proposed and tested in the laboratory. However, commercial reprocessing has been implemented along a single line of aqueous solvent extraction technology called plutonium uranium reduction extraction process (PUREX). Similarly, hundreds of types of reactor fuels have been irradiated for different purposes, but the vast majority of commercial fuel is uranium oxide clad in zirconium alloy tubing. As a result, commercial reprocessing plants have relatively narrow technical requirements for used nuclear that is accepted for processing.« less
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Elsevier Reference Modules on ScienceDirect
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Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
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United States
11 NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE AND FUEL MATERIALS Fuel Reprocessing; nuclear fuels; processing