Saturday, 19 March 2011

Nuclear fuel

Nuclear fuel is a material that can be 'consumed' by fission or fusion to derive nuclear energy, by analogy to chemical fuel that is burned for energy. Nuclear fuels are the most dense sources of energy available. Nuclear fuel in a nuclear fuel cycle can refer to the fuel itself, or to physical objects (for example bundles composed of fuel rods) composed of the fuel material, mixed with structural, neutron moderating, or neutron reflecting materials.

Most nuclear fuels contain heavy fissile elements that can be made to undergo a nuclear fission chain reaction in a nuclear reactor. The most common fissile nuclear fuels are Uranium 235 (235U) and Plutonium 239 (239Pu). The actions of mining, refining, purifying, using, and ultimately disposing of these elements together make up the nuclear fuel cycle.

Not all nuclear fuels are used in fission reactors. Plutonium-238 and some other elements are used to produce small amounts of nuclear power by radioactive decay in radioisotope thermoelectric generators and other atomic batteries. Light nuclides such as 3H (tritium) are used as fuel for nuclear fusion.

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