May 5, 2022

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle: The Front End Phase Explained

According to the Energy Department, nuclear power can be a better alternative to fossil fuels. On top of its benefits, it generates minimal waste. Some might doubt the accuracy of this assertion because we have seen the destruction that happened in Fukushima. However, you must consider that this unfortunate incident was contained.

The nuclear fuel cycle has two primary steps: the front and back end. The former involves preparing the uranium, while the latter includes spending on atomic fuel disposal. 

The back end can become a more severe environmental threat than the front end. For instance, separating uranium from the spent fuel is very difficult. On the other hand, you have nitrates, which are toxic pollutants. Therefore, this part of the nuclear fuel cycle must be handled appropriately.

You might have several questions about the entire process. In this case, stay tuned to learn more. 


The country has several sources. There are uranium mines in Texas and other parts of the nation. More discoveries are likely to be made since most of the world’s reserves are yet to be found.

At present, the government is investing heavily in exploration. It is to ensure that enough uranium is available years from now. The Energy Department is working with energy companies to search areas with prospective uranium deposits.

Where the ore is found, scientists will determine its grade. In other words, they can estimate the quality. For example, they will separate ore that has higher uranium content. Meanwhile, low-grade nuclear fuel will be left behind.

Because of the dangers of extraction, the Energy Department carefully regulates the process. The extraction of uranium ore is done under controlled conditions. 

Uranium Milling

The ore is taken out of the quarry, which is then crushed. It is frequently ground with other rock components like sandstone because this ensures that the ore has a homogeneous particle size. On the other hand, the milling process will also expose the resulting powder to oxygen. This is to improve the chemical reactions that will take place later on.

Uranium Conversion

This stage involves the conversion of yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF8). It is a gaseous compound that is frequently used to enrich uranium. In cases where the uranium ore contains appreciable amounts of metals like lead and bismuth, their removal is essential. It is to ensure that the end product has a higher uranium content.

Uranium Enrichment 

At this point, the UF8 gas is further processed by an enrichment plant. In this stage, the individual uranium isotopes are separated. It results in enriched UF8 with a 3-5% concentration of U-235. The remaining material has a higher concentration of U-238, which is passed on to a storage or disposal facility.

Finally, the UF8 with a higher concentration of U-235 is fed into a nuclear reactor. Nuclear fuel from the reactor can be recycled continuously.


Nuclear power remains a reliable alternative to fossil fuels. It is becoming an important part of the nation’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There are countless benefits that you can enjoy, particularly when you consider that the entire process is regulated by the government.

If you have more questions, get in touch with enCore Energy Corp. As a domestic uranium developer in the US, we will be more than happy to answer them. Schedule an appointment now so we can discuss the whole nuclear fuel cycle.