Fuel cycle physics and chemistry
Chalk River Laboratories. Photo: Padraic Ryan, Wikimedia Commons.

The nuclear fuel cycle is the chain of processes whereby nuclear fuel is prepared and managed before and after its use in a reactor.

Two basic types of fuel cycles exist: once-through and closed. The difference between them is the way the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) is managed. In the once-through fuel cycle, fuel removed from a reactor is placed in storage facilities pending its disposal in an underground repository. In a closed fuel cycle, spent fuel is recycled, allowing the unused fissile material to be recovered and reused in new fuel.

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NEA work on this topic

Providing up-to-date information on and developing consensus regarding fuel cycle scenarios, recycling technologies, fuels, materials, liquid metal and coolant technologies, and technology and components of accelerator-driven systems is essential to advancing nuclear science.

The Working Party on Scientific Issues of the Fuel Cycle (WPFC) deals with scientific issues in various existing and advanced nuclear fuel cycles, including fuel cycle scenarios, physics, separation chemistry and flowsheets, waste forms, fuels and materials, and spallation target, under the guidance of the Nuclear Science Committee (NSC).

The WPFC provides member countries with up-to-date information on and develops consensus regarding:

  • fuel cycle scenarios
  • chemical partitioning
  • fuels and materials
  • technology and components of accelerator driven systems.