September 20, 2022

Uranium: Where Does It Come From, and How Is It Used?

Uranium is a naturally occurring element that can be found at low levels throughout the Earth’s crust. It’s a crucial element with uses in the generation of clean energy. In order to be used as fuel for nuclear reactors, uranium must be mined and processed to increase its purity. Let’s discuss what there is to know about uranium.

Where Does Uranium Come From?

As a naturally occurring element, uranium is typically found in deposits of pitchblende, a type of rock that also contains radium and thorium. 

Once these deposits are found, mining companies extract the uranium ore and mill it into a powder. This powder, known as yellowcake, is then shipped to a facility where it is converted into uranium hexafluoride gas. This gas is then enriched to increase the uranium-235 content and finally made into fuel pellets.

How Is Uranium Used as Fuel?

Uranium is used as fuel in nuclear reactors. The uranium-235 isotope is the element’s main fuel, and it is what makes nuclear reactors possible.

Uranium-235 is a fissile material, meaning that it can be split apart by neutrons. When it is hit by a neutron, it splits into two smaller atoms and releases energy. This energy can be used to generate electricity, and it is what makes nuclear reactors so efficient.

Uranium-235 makes up less than 1% of natural uranium, so it must be enriched before it can be usable as fuel. Enrichment is the process of increasing the concentration of uranium-235.

Once the uranium is enriched, it is made into fuel pellets. These pellets are then loaded into fuel rods, which are then inserted into the reactor.

The reactor uses the uranium fuel to generate heat, which the system then uses to generate electricity.

There are several steps involved in this process, which are outlined below.

1. Mining

Mining companies use a variety of methods to extract uranium from the Earth. The most common method is open-pit mining, where large swaths of land are cleared to expose the uranium ore. Once the ore is exposed, it is mined using large earth-moving equipment and hauled to a mill for processing.

2. Milling

The uranium ore is milled into a powder form. This process removes the impurities from the ore and Concentrates the uranium. The powder, known as yellowcake, is then shipped to a facility for further processing.

3. Extraction

The uranium hexafluoride gas is extracted from the yellowcake powder. This process removes impurities and enriches the uranium.

4. Purification

The uranium hexafluoride gas is purified to increase its uranium-235 content. This process is known as enrichment.

5. Conversion

The enriched uranium hexafluoride gas is converted into fuel pellets. These pellets are then used to fuel nuclear reactors.

Conclusion

Uranium is a metal found in the Earth’s crust. It is used to fuel nuclear reactors and create nuclear weapons. The uranium mining process is complex and involves many steps. 

Uranium mining is a complex process, but it is an important part of the nuclear fuel cycle. The element is first mined from minerals. The ores are then milled, and the uranium is extracted from them. The uranium is then enriched and used to fuel nuclear reactors or create nuclear weapons. 

If you’re looking for an outstanding domestic uranium developer, you should check out enCore Energy Corp. We’re a U.S. domestic uranium developer focused on becoming a leading in-situ recovery (ISR) uranium producer. Contact us today to learn more.