United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Fuel cycle

The series of steps involved in supplying fuel for nuclear power reactors include the following:

  • Uranium recovery to extract (or mine) uranium ore, and concentrate (or mill) the ore to produce "yellowcake"
  • Conversion of yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6)
  • Enrichment to increase the concentration of uranium-235 (U-235) in UF6
  • Deconversion to reduce the hazards associated with the depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6), or "tailings," produced in earlier stages of the fuel cycle
  • Fuel fabrication to convert enriched UF6 into fuel for nuclear reactors
  • Use of the fuel in reactors (nuclear power, research, or naval propulsion)
  • Interim storage of spent nuclear fuel
  • Reprocessing of high-level waste to recover the fissionable material remaining in the spent fuel (currently not done in the United States)
  • Final disposition (disposal) of high-level waste
The NRC regulates these processes, as well as the fabrication of mixed oxide nuclear fuel, which is a combination of uranium and plutonium oxides. For additional detail, see Fuel Cycle Facilities.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, May 20, 2016