Nuclear Fuel Facts – Uranium

  • By: David
  • Date: September 13, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

The World Nuclear Association compiles data about using uranium to produce nuclear power. The data is not exhaustive and is subject to change as more data becomes available. The World Nuclear Association reports that uranium is sold only to countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These countries must permit international inspections and be committed to nuclear nonproliferation. While nuclear energy is often associated with nuclear weapons and reactors, the types of radioisotopes used in nuclear power plants have changed over the last few decades.

Uranium Mine

Uranium is a common metal

Uranium is the 92nd element in the periodic table and the heaviest naturally occurring element on Earth. It is also a powerful concentrated energy source, having the highest energy density of any known world fuel. Uranium is mined commercially from uranium-bearing minerals.

For over 60 years, uranium has been used for nuclear power. It is found in the Earth’s crust at concentrations of between two and four parts per million. It is also present in the oceans. In fact, uranium is so familiar that it can be recovered from seawater and is used to power nuclear power plants. A German chemist, Martin Klaproth, discovered uranium in 1789 in the mineral pitchblende. He named the metal Uranium in honor of the planet Uranus.

It has the highest atomic weight of all naturally occurring elements

Uranium, a rare earth element, has the highest atomic mass of any naturally occurring element and is used to make nuclear fuel. The chemical process of uranium production begins with the extraction of uranium ore. The next step is processing and refining. The result could be a form or nuclear fuel depending on how much uranium is present. The element is generally considered safe for consumption or use in small quantities. It is however difficult to work with in larger quantities than milligrams due to its presence in uranium scrap.

Uranium is the 92nd element in the periodic table, and it is also the heaviest naturally occurring element in the Earth. Uranium is a good choice for fuel because it has the highest energy density among all the natural elements.

It is destroyed by alpha particles

When uranium decays by alpha particles, it releases energy in the form of kinetic energy. A single alpha particle has a potential energy of approximately 6.1 MeV. This energy is transferred into the recoiling nuclear nucleus. The alpha particle is the most energetic component of the decay, as it requires a large amount of energy to reach the nucleus.

Alpha decay is the most common type of cluster decay and is a form of radioactive decay that ejects a defined daughter collection of nucleons and leaves a product with a lower mass. Fundamentally, alpha decay is a quantum tunneling process that is governed by the interaction between the strong nuclear force (and the electromagnetic force).

It can cause cancer

The toxicity of uranium is the same for depleted and natural uranium. It spreads throughout the body and tends to accumulate in the bones and kidneys. Although it can remain in the bones for years, it leaves the body in urine in one to two weeks. The body excretes most of its uranium.

The primary mechanism of uranium toxicity is direct DNA damage caused by interactions with alpha particles. The most likely site of cancer is bone sarcomas, but there are also other cancers that may occur after exposure to uranium.

It is used as a fuel in nuclear reactors

The nuclear fuel cycle is made up of steps in the front end that prepare the uranium for use in nuclear reactors and steps in the back end that manage, prepare and dispose of the spent fuel. The safe management of spent nuclear fuel is the focus of the front end of this cycle.

Nuclear reactors use uranium pellets to produce energy by undergoing nuclear fission. This process produces enormous amounts of heat that powers turbines and generates electric power. The fuel is made of low enriched uranium, which is packaged into long vertical tubes and then inserted into the reactor.

It is mined in 20 countries

Twenty countries are home to uranium, with Iran being the latest. Australia and Canada produce 44% of the world’s uranium, while Uzbekistan and Namibia produce about 6% each. The world’s uranium supply is not enough to meet the demands of nuclear power reactors.

Canada: Canada has the largest uranium reserves, accounting for more than 9% of the world’s recoverable supply. Its strategic location, as the world’s 18th largest economy, has made it a major force in the global uranium market. Canada’s uranium mining industry is dominated by Cameco, which has several major investments. Cigar Lake and McArthur River are the largest Canadian uranium mines.

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