The raw material used to make nuclear fuel is uranium. Rock is taken from mainly open-cast mines all over the world. The ore that is taken contains around 1.5% uranium. To concentrate the uranium content, the ore is ground, treated and purified using chemical and physical processes. This results in a solid uranium ore concentrate which contains around 80% uranium.
After further purification and conversion processes the uranium arrives at Springfields as enriched Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6).
Nuclear Fuel brochure
Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor Fuel
The Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) is unique to the UK and is the second type of nuclear reactor to be run in the UK. In all, 14 AGR reactors have been built and run in the UK since 1963. AGR fuel is a type of oxide fuel and is made from uranium dioxide powder. An AGR fuel element is made up of uranium oxide pellets stacked inside stainless steel tubes. These tubes are then grouped together in a graphite 'sleeve' to form a 'fuel assembly'. An AGR assembly is made up of 36 steel tubes, each containing 64 pellets.
How do we make AGR fuel?
- Enriched Uranium Hexafluoride arrives at Springfields and is converted to uranium dioxide (UO2) powder in a kiln using process called the 'Integrated Dry Route' (IDR).
- The Integrated Dry Route is a unique process we developed which changes UF6 into a ceramic grade uranium dioxide powder, in a single stage. We do this by mixing it with steam and hydrogen in a kiln. IDR is the most environmentally friendly conversion technique now available.
- We then process the UO2 powder again, press it, heat it on a furnace and grind it to produce the fuel pellets. The fuel pellets (which are about the size of a thimble) are stacked inside a fuel tube.
- Once the tubes are sealed and pressurised, they are put together in the graphite 'sleeve' to form the AGR fuel assembly. After it is thoroughly inspected to check the quality of the fuel, we pack it ready to send to an AGR reactor.
Light Water Reactor Fuel
Light Water Reactors (LWRs) are used throughout the world. The fuel for Light Water Reactors is a type of oxide fuel and the Oxide Fuels Complex at Springfields has the capability to produce this type of fuel.
How do we make Light Water Reactor fuel?
LWR fuel uses the same manufacturing process as for AGR fuel. The fuel pellets (which are smaller than an AGR pellet) are then loaded inside zirconium alloy tubes, which are about three metres long. We then pressurise and seal them and fit them inside a pre-assembled framework to form a fuel assembly. We then inspect the assembly before we send it to the reactor. A typical LWR fuel assembly is made up of 264 zirconium alloy tubes, each containing about 300 pellets.
Westinghouse has several unique facilities at the Springfields site with skilled and experienced operators to process residues. Westinghouse can handle varying volumes of material – from a few kilograms to many tonnes – and can offer pre-processing services, such as sampling, material sorting, size reduction, de-canning and re-drumming as part of their customized service to you. The Springfields site also contains storage facilities to support treatment options. As a fuel manufacturer, Westinghouse has the essential ability to recycle uranium and return it to the fuel cycle.
In recent years, Westinghouse has characterised and processed around 50,000 residue drums comprising over 1,000 different residue types generated in over 60 years of nuclear fuel research and manufacture. Westinghouse has a dedicated residues team working with customers and regulators to assess material, conduct trials and develop processing options.
Uranium Recovery Solutions brochure
As well as making nuclear fuel, we also produce intermediate uranium products such as enriched uranium dioxide powder, granules and pellets. We also have the capability to produce Uranium Hexafluoride.
How do we make uranium dioxide powder, granules and pellets?
Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) is turned into a gas which we then feed into the Integrated Dry Route (IDR) kiln. Here the gas is changed into UO2 using the IDR process. The UO2 powder is then sifted and blended and either granulated and pelleted to be produced into nuclear fuel or stored before it is exported to customers throughout the world.
How do we make uranium hexafluoride (UF6)?
At Springfields we have the Uranium Hexafluoride production facilities capable of producing around 5000teU per annum. Uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) that has been chemically processed from natural uranium ore concentrates provides the feed material for UF6 production. UF4 is reacted with fluorine gas in a fluidised bed reactor to form UF6. The UF6 formed is first trapped in condensers by cooling and then liquified by a heating process. The liquid UF6 is run-off into transport cylinders using remote handling equipment. The liquid solidifies on cooling.
The UF6 is transported to enrichment organisations throughout the world. The enriched UF6 can then be converted into oxide fuels for Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors and Pressurised/Light Water Reactors
The landscape at Springfields has started to change. Old plants and redundant buildings are being decommissioned and demolished as part of the on-going decommissioning programme.
Decommissioning of process plants starts with the removal of the majority of activity contained within the plant. This is known as Post Operational Clean Out
. Once this is complete the plant may be dismantled. Waste from both these phases will be disposed of to authorised disposal sites in line with our discharge authorisations.
Springfields decommissioning and clean-up operations started in 1990 with the post operational clean-out of the old UKAEA Springfields Nuclear Fuels Laboratories. Since this time the site has undergone an intensive decommissioning programme from which a great amount of experience has been gained.