Nuclear fuel

Nuclear fuel

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Nuclear fuel is a material that can be 'consumed' by fission or fusion to derive nuclear energy
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

. Nuclear fuels are the most dense
Energy density
Energy density is a term used for the amount of energy stored in a given system or region of space per unit volume. Often only the useful or extractable energy is quantified, which is to say that chemically inaccessible energy such as rest mass energy is ignored...

 sources of energy available. Nuclear fuel in a nuclear fuel cycle
Nuclear fuel cycle
The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel through a series of differing stages. It consists of steps in the front end, which are the preparation of the fuel, steps in the service period in which the fuel is used during reactor operation, and steps in...

 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
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

, or neutron reflecting materials.

Most nuclear fuels contain heavy metal fissile
Fissile
In nuclear engineering, a fissile material is one that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. By definition, fissile materials can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of any energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons or fast neutrons...

 elements that can be made to undergo a nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 chain reaction
Chain reaction
A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events....

 in a nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

. The most common fissile nuclear fuels are Uranium 235
Uranium-235
- References :* .* DOE Fundamentals handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor theory , .* A piece of U-235 the size of a grain of rice can produce energy equal to that contained in three tons of coal or fourteen barrels of oil. -External links:* * * one of the earliest articles on U-235 for the...

 (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
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

. Plutonium-238
Plutonium-238
-External links:**...

 and some other elements are used to produce small amounts of nuclear power by radioactive decay
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 in radioisotope thermoelectric generator
Radioisotope thermoelectric generator
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator is an electrical generator that obtains its power from radioactive decay. In such a device, the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material is converted into electricity by the Seebeck effect using an array of thermocouples.RTGs can be...

s and other atomic batteries
Atomic battery
The terms atomic battery, nuclear battery, tritium battery and radioisotope generator are used to describe a device which uses the emissions from a radioactive isotope to generate electricity. Like nuclear reactors they generate electricity from atomic energy, but differ in that they do not use a...

. Light nuclide
Nuclide
A nuclide is an atomic species characterized by the specific constitution of its nucleus, i.e., by its number of protons Z, its number of neutrons N, and its nuclear energy state....

s such as 3H (tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

) are used as fuel for nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

.

Oxide fuel


For fission reactors, the fuel (typically based on Uranium) is usually based on the metal oxide; the oxides are used rather than the metals themselves because the oxide melting point is much higher than that of the metal and because it cannot burn, being already in the oxidized state.
The thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

 of uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide or uranium oxide , also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of uranium, and is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite. It is used in nuclear fuel rods in nuclear reactors. A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxides is used...

 is low; it is affected by porosity
Porosity
Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as a percentage between 0–100%...

 and burn-up. The burn-up results in fission products being dissolved in the lattice
Crystal structure
In mineralogy and crystallography, crystal structure is a unique arrangement of atoms or molecules in a crystalline liquid or solid. A crystal structure is composed of a pattern, a set of atoms arranged in a particular way, and a lattice exhibiting long-range order and symmetry...

 (such as lanthanides), the precipitation of fission products such as palladium
Palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

, the formation of fission gas bubble
Liquid bubble
A bubble is a globule of one substance in another, usually gas in a liquid.Due to the Marangoni effect, bubbles may remain intact when they reach the surface of the immersive substance.-Common examples:...

s due to fission products such as xenon
Xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. The element name is pronounced or . A colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, xenon occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts...

 and krypton
Krypton
Krypton is a chemical element with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. It is a member of Group 18 and Period 4 elements. A colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, krypton occurs in trace amounts in the atmosphere, is isolated by fractionally distilling liquified air, and is often used with other...

 and radiation damage of the lattice. The low thermal conductivity can lead to overheating of the center part of the pellets during use. The porosity results in a decrease in both the thermal conductivity of the fuel and the swelling which occurs during use.

According to the International Nuclear Safety Center
International Nuclear Safety Center
The International Nuclear Safety Center which operates under the guidance of the Director of International Nuclear Safety and Cooperation in the United States Department of Energy. Their mission is to improve nuclear power reactor safety worldwide...

 http://www.insc.anl.gov/ the thermal conductivity of uranium dioxide can be predicted under different conditions by a series of equations.

The bulk density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 of the fuel can be related to the thermal conductivity

Where ρ is the bulk density of the fuel and ρtd is the theoretical density of the uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide or uranium oxide , also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of uranium, and is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite. It is used in nuclear fuel rods in nuclear reactors. A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxides is used...

.

Then the thermal conductivity of the porous phase (Kf) is related to the conductivity of the perfect phase (Ko, no porosity) by the following equation. Note that s is a term for the shape factor of the holes.
Kf = Ko(1 − p/1 + (s − 1)p)


Rather than measuring the thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity measurement
There are a number of possible ways to measure thermal conductivity, each of them suitable for a limited range of materials, depending on the thermal properties and the medium temperature...

 using the traditional methods in physics such as Lees' disk, the Forbes' method or Searle's bar it is common to use a laser flash method where a small disc of fuel is placed in a furnace. After being heated to the required temperature one side of the disc is illuminated with a laser pulse, the time required for the heat wave to flow through the disc, the density of the disc, and the thickness of the disk can then be used to calculated to give the thermal conductivity.
λ = ρCpα

  • λ thermal conductivity
    Thermal conductivity
    In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

  • ρ density
    Density
    The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

  • Cp heat capacity
    Heat capacity
    Heat capacity , or thermal capacity, is the measurable physical quantity that characterizes the amount of heat required to change a substance's temperature by a given amount...

  • α thermal diffusivity
    Thermal diffusivity
    In heat transfer analysis, thermal diffusivity is the thermal conductivity divided by density and specific heat capacity at constant pressure. It has the SI unit of m²/s...



If t1/2 is defined as the time required for the non illuminated surface to experience half its final temperature rise then.
α = 0.1388 L2/t1/2

  • L is the thickness of the disc


For details see http://equip.kaist.ac.kr/Journal/lfat.pdf

UOX


Uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide or uranium oxide , also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of uranium, and is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite. It is used in nuclear fuel rods in nuclear reactors. A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxides is used...

 is a black semiconductor
Semiconductor
A semiconductor is a material with electrical conductivity due to electron flow intermediate in magnitude between that of a conductor and an insulator. This means a conductivity roughly in the range of 103 to 10−8 siemens per centimeter...

 solid. It can be made by reacting uranyl
Uranyl
The uranyl ion is an oxycation of uranium in the oxidation state +6, with the chemical formula [UO2]2+. It has a linear structure with short U-O bonds, indicative of the presence of multiple bonds between uranium and oxygen. Four or more ligands are bound to the uranyl ion in an equatorial plane...

 nitrate with a base (ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

) to form a solid (ammonium uranate). It is heated (calcined) to form U3O8 that can then be converted by heating in an argon
Argon
Argon is a chemical element represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table . Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide...

 / hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 mixture (700 °C) to form UO2. The UO2 is then mixed with an organic binder and pressed into pellets, these pellets are then fired at a much higher temperature (in H2/Ar) to sinter the solid. The aim is to form a dense solid which has few pores.

The thermal conductivity of uranium dioxide is very low compared with that of zirconium metal, and it goes down as the temperature goes up.

It is important to note that the corrosion of uranium dioxide in an aqueous environment is controlled by similar electrochemical processes to the galvanic corrosion of a metal surface.

MOX



Mixed oxide, or MOX fuel, is a blend of plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 and natural or depleted
Depleted uranium
Depleted uranium is uranium with a lower content of the fissile isotope U-235 than natural uranium . Uses of DU take advantage of its very high density of 19.1 g/cm3...

 uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 which behaves similarly (though not identically) to the enriched uranium feed for which most nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s were designed. MOX fuel is an alternative to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in the light water reactor
Light water reactor
The light water reactor is a type of thermal reactor that uses normal water as its coolant and neutron moderator. Thermal reactors are the most common type of nuclear reactor, and light water reactors are the most common type of thermal reactor...

s which predominate nuclear power
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

 generation.

Some concern has been expressed that used MOX cores will introduce new disposal challenges, though MOX is itself a means to dispose of surplus plutonium by transmutation
Nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element or isotope into another. In other words, atoms of one element can be changed into atoms of other element by 'transmutation'...

.

Currently (March, 2005) reprocessing of commercial nuclear fuel to make MOX is done in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and to a lesser extent in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 plans to develop fast breeder reactors and reprocessing.

The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
The International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation formerly the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership began as a U.S. proposal, announced by United States Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman on February 6, 2006, to form an international partnership to promote the use of nuclear power and close...

, is a U.S. plan to form an international partnership to see spent nuclear fuel reprocessed in a way that renders the plutonium in it usable for nuclear fuel but not for nuclear weapons. Reprocessing of spent commercial-reactor nuclear fuel has not been permitted in the United States due to nonproliferation considerations. All of the other reprocessing nations have long had nuclear weapons from military-focused "research"-reactor fuels except for Japan.

Metal fuel


Metal fuels have the advantage of a much higher heat conductivity than oxide fuels but cannot survive equally high temperatures. Metal fuels have a long history of use, stretching from the Clementine reactor in 1946 to many test and research reactors. Metal fuels have the potential for the highest fissile atom density. Metal fuels are normally alloyed, but some metal fuels have been made with pure uranium metal. Uranium alloys that have been used include uranium aluminum, uranium zirconium, uranium silicon, uranium molybdenum, and uranium zirconium hydride. Any of the aforementioned fuels can be made with plutonium and other actinides as part of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Metal fuels have been used in water reactors and liquid metal fast breeder reactors, such as EBR-II.

TRIGA fuel


TRIGA
TRIGA
TRIGA is a class of small nuclear reactor designed and manufactured by General Atomics. The design team for TRIGA was led by the physicist Freeman Dyson.TRIGA is the acronym of Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics.-Design:...

 fuel is used in TRIGA (Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics
General Atomics
General Atomics is a nuclear physics and defense contractor headquartered in San Diego, California. General Atomics’ research into fission and fusion matured into competencies in related technologies, allowing the company to expand into other fields of research...

) reactors.
The TRIGA reactor uses uranium-zirconium-hydride (UZrH) fuel, which has a prompt negative temperature coefficient, meaning that as the temperature of the core increases, the reactivity decreases—so it is highly unlikely for a meltdown to occur. Most cores that use this fuel are "high leakage" cores where the excess leaked neutrons can be utilized for research. TRIGA fuel was originally designed to use highly enriched uranium, however in 1978 the U.S. Department of Energy launched its Reduced Enrichment for Research Test Reactors program, which promoted reactor conversion to low-enriched uranium fuel. A total of 35 TRIGA reactors have been installed at locations across the USA. A further 35 reactors have been installed in other countries.

Actinide fuel


In a fast neutron reactor
Fast neutron reactor
A fast neutron reactor or simply a fast reactor is a category of nuclear reactor in which the fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons...

, the minor actinides produced by neutron capture of uranium and plutonium can be used as fuel. Metal actinide fuel is typically an alloy of zirconium, uranium, plutonium and the minor actinides
Minor actinides
The minor actinides are the actinide elements in used nuclear fuel other than uranium and plutonium, which are termed the major actinides. The minor actinides include neptunium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, and fermium...

. It can be made inherently safe as thermal expansion of the metal alloy will increase neutron leakage.

Ceramic fuels


Ceramic
Ceramic
A ceramic is an inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous...

 fuels other than oxides have the advantage of high heat conductivities and melting points, but they are more prone to swelling than oxide fuels and are much less well understood.

Uranium nitride



This is often the fuel of choice for reactor designs that NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 produces, one advantage is that UN has a better thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

 than UO2. Uranium nitride has a very high melting point. This fuel has the disadvantage that unless 15N was used (in place of the more common 14N) that a large amount of 14C
Carbon-14
Carbon-14, 14C, or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with a nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleagues , to date archaeological, geological, and hydrogeological...

 would be generated from the nitrogen by the (n,p) reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

. As the nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 required for such a fuel would be so expensive it is likely that the fuel would have to be reprocessed
Nuclear reprocessing
Nuclear reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. Reprocessing serves multiple purposes, whose relative importance has changed over time. Originally reprocessing was used solely to extract plutonium for producing...

 by a pyro method to enable to the 15N to be recovered. It is likely that if the fuel was processed and dissolved in nitric acid
Nitric acid
Nitric acid , also known as aqua fortis and spirit of nitre, is a highly corrosive and toxic strong acid.Colorless when pure, older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen. If the solution contains more than 86% nitric acid, it is referred to as fuming...

 that the nitrogen enriched with 15N would be diluted with the common 14N.

Uranium carbide



Much of what is known about uranium carbide is in the form of pin-type fuel elements for liquid metal fast breeder reactor
Liquid metal cooled reactor
A liquid metal cooled nuclear reactor, liquid metal fast reactor or LMFR is an advanced type of nuclear reactor where the primary coolant is a liquid metal. Liquid metal cooled reactors were first adapted for nuclear submarine use but have also been extensively studied for power generation...

s during their intense study during the '60s and '70s. However, recently there has been a revived interest in uranium carbide in the form of plate fuel and most notably, micro fuel particles (such as TRISO particles).

The high thermal conductivity and high melting point make uranium carbide an attractive fuel. In addition, because of the absence of oxygen in this fuel (during the course of irradiation, excess gas pressure can build from the formation of O2 or other gases) as well as the ability to complement a ceramic coating (a ceramic-ceramic interface has structural and chemical advantages), uranium carbide could be the ideal fuel candidate for certain Generation IV reactors such as the gas-cooled fast reactor
Gas-cooled fast reactor
The Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor system is a nuclear reactor design which is currently in development. Classed as a Generation IV reactor, it features a fast-neutron spectrum and closed fuel cycle for efficient conversion of fertile uranium and management of actinides...

.

Molten salts


These include fuels where the fuel is dissolved in the coolant. They were used in the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment and numerous other liquid core reactor experiments, such as the liquid fluoride thorium reactor
Liquid fluoride thorium reactor
The liquid fluoride thorium reactor is a thermal breeder reactor which uses the thorium fuel cycle in a fluoride-based molten salt fuel to achieve high operating temperatures at atmospheric pressure....

. The liquid fuel for the molten salt reactor was a mixture of lithium, beryllium, thorium and uranium fluorides: LiF-BeF2-ThF4-UF4 (72-16-12-0.4 mol%). It had a peak operating temperature
Operating temperature
An operating temperature is the temperature at which an electrical or mechanical device operates. The device will operate effectively within a specified temperature range which varies based on the device function and application context, and ranges from the minimum operating temperature to the...

 of 705 °C in the experiment, but could have operated at much higher temperatures, since the boiling point of the molten salt was in excess of 1400 °C.

Aqueous solutions of uranyl salts


The aqueous homogeneous reactor
Aqueous homogeneous reactor
Aqueous homogeneous reactors are a type of nuclear reactor in which soluble nuclear salts have been dissolved in water. The fuel is mixed with the coolant and the moderator, thus the name "homogeneous" The water can be either heavy water or light water, both which need to be very pure...

s use a solution of uranyl sulfate
Uranyl sulfate
Uranyl sulfate a sulfate of uranium is an odorless lemon-yellow sand-like solid in its pure crystalline form.It has found use as a negative stain in microscopy and tracer in biology...

 or other uranium salt in water. This homogenous reactor type has not been used for any large power reactors. One of its disadvantages is that the fuel is in a form which is easy to disperse in the event of an accident
Accident
An accident or mishap is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance, often with lack of intention or necessity. It implies a generally negative outcome which may have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its...

.

Common physical forms of nuclear fuel


Uranium dioxide (UO2) powder is compacted to cylindrical pellets and sintered at high temperatures to produce ceramic nuclear fuel pellets with a high density and well defined physical properties and chemical composition. A grinding process is used to achieve a uniform cylindrical geometry with narrow tolerances. Such fuel pellets are then stacked and filled into the metallic tubes. The metal used for the tubes depends on the design of the reactor. Stainless steel was used in the past, but most reactors now use a zirconium alloy
Zircaloy
Zirconium alloys are solid solutions of zirconium or other metals, a common subgroup having the trade mark Zircaloy. Zirconium has very low absorption cross-section of thermal neutrons, high hardness, ductility and corrosion resistance...

 which, in addition to being highly corrosion-resistant, has low neutron absorption. The tubes containing the fuel pellets are sealed: these tubes are called fuel rods. The finished fuel rods are grouped into fuel assemblies that are used to build up the core of a power reactor.

Cladding is the outer layer of the fuel rods, standing between the coolant and the nuclear fuel. It is made of a corrosion
Corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

-resistant material with low absorption cross section
Absorption cross section
Absorption cross section is a measure for the probability of an absorption process. More generally, the term cross section is used in physics to quantify the probability of a certain particle-particle interaction, e.g., scattering, electromagnetic absorption, etc...

 for thermal neutrons, usually Zircaloy
Zircaloy
Zirconium alloys are solid solutions of zirconium or other metals, a common subgroup having the trade mark Zircaloy. Zirconium has very low absorption cross-section of thermal neutrons, high hardness, ductility and corrosion resistance...

 or steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 in modern constructions, or magnesium
Magnesium
Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg, atomic number 12, and common oxidation number +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole...

 with small amount of aluminium and other metals for the now-obsolete Magnox
Magnox
Magnox is a now obsolete type of nuclear power reactor which was designed and is still in use in the United Kingdom, and was exported to other countries, both as a power plant, and, when operated accordingly, as a producer of plutonium for nuclear weapons...

 reactors. Cladding prevents radioactive fission fragments from escaping the fuel into the coolant and contaminating it.

PWR fuel


Pressurized water reactor
Pressurized water reactor
Pressurized water reactors constitute a large majority of all western nuclear power plants and are one of three types of light water reactor , the other types being boiling water reactors and supercritical water reactors...

 (PWR) fuel consists of cylindrical rods put into bundles. A uranium oxide ceramic is formed into pellets and inserted into Zircaloy
Zircaloy
Zirconium alloys are solid solutions of zirconium or other metals, a common subgroup having the trade mark Zircaloy. Zirconium has very low absorption cross-section of thermal neutrons, high hardness, ductility and corrosion resistance...

 tubes that are bundled together. The Zircaloy tubes are about 1 cm in diameter, and the fuel cladding gap is filled with helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 gas to improve the conduction of heat
Heat
In physics and thermodynamics, heat is energy transferred from one body, region, or thermodynamic system to another due to thermal contact or thermal radiation when the systems are at different temperatures. It is often described as one of the fundamental processes of energy transfer between...

 from the fuel to the cladding. There are about 179-264 fuel rods per fuel bundle and about 121 to 193 fuel bundles are loaded into a reactor core. Generally, the fuel bundles consist of fuel rods bundled 14x14 to 17x17. PWR fuel bundles are about 4 meters in length. In PWR fuel bundles, control rods are inserted through the top directly into the fuel bundle. The fuel bundles usually are enriched several percent in 235U. The uranium oxide is dried before inserting into the tubes to try to eliminate moisture in the ceramic fuel that can lead to corrosion and hydrogen embrittlement. The Zircaloy tubes are pressurized with helium to try to minimize pellet-cladding interaction which can lead to fuel rod failure over long periods.

BWR fuel


In boiling water reactor
Boiling water reactor
The boiling water reactor is a type of light water nuclear reactor used for the generation of electrical power. It is the second most common type of electricity-generating nuclear reactor after the pressurized water reactor , also a type of light water nuclear reactor...

s (BWR), the fuel is similar to PWR fuel except that the bundles are "canned"; that is, there is a thin tube surrounding each bundle. This is primarily done to prevent local density variations
Void coefficient
In nuclear engineering, the void coefficient is a number that can be used to estimate how much the reactivity of a nuclear reactor changes as voids form in the reactor moderator or coolant...

 from affecting neutronics and thermal hydraulics of the reactor core. In modern BWR fuel bundles, there are either 91, 92, or 96 fuel rods per assembly depending on the manufacturer. A range between 368 assemblies for the smallest and 800 assemblies for the largest U.S. BWR forms the reactor core. Each BWR fuel rod is back filled with helium to a pressure of about three atmospheres (300 kPa).

CANDU fuel


CANDU fuel bundles are about a half meter in length and 10 cm in diameter. They consist of sintered (UO2) pellets in zirconium alloy tubes, welded to zirconium alloy end plates. Each bundle is roughly 20 kg, and a typical core loading is on the order of 4500-6500 bundles, depending on the design. Modern types typically have 37 identical fuel pins radially arranged about the long axis of the bundle, but in the past several different configurations and numbers of pins have been used. The CANFLEX
CANFLEX
CANFLEX; the name is derived from its function: CANDU FLEXible fuelling, is an advanced fuel bundle design developed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. , along with the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute for use in CANDU design nuclear reactors...

 bundle has 43 fuel elements, with two element sizes. It is also about 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter, 0.5 m (20 in) long and weighs about 20 kg (44 lb) and replaces the 37-pin standard bundle. It has been designed specifically to increase fuel performance by utilizing two different pin diameters. Current CANDU designs do not need enriched uranium to achieve criticality (due to their more efficient heavy water
Heavy water
Heavy water is water highly enriched in the hydrogen isotope deuterium; e.g., heavy water used in CANDU reactors is 99.75% enriched by hydrogen atom-fraction...

 moderator
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

), however, some newer concepts call for low enrichment to help reduce the size of the reactors.

Less common fuel forms


Various other nuclear fuel forms find use in specific applications, but lack the widespread use of those found in BWRs, PWRs, and CANDU power plants. Many of these fuel forms are only found in research reactors, or have military applications.

Magnox fuel



Magnox
Magnox
Magnox is a now obsolete type of nuclear power reactor which was designed and is still in use in the United Kingdom, and was exported to other countries, both as a power plant, and, when operated accordingly, as a producer of plutonium for nuclear weapons...

 reactors are pressurised, carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 cooled, graphite
Nuclear Graphite
Nuclear graphite is any grade of graphite, usually electro-graphite, specifically manufactured for use as a moderator or reflector within nuclear reactors...

 moderated
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

 reactors using natural uranium
Natural uranium
Natural uranium refers to refined uranium with the same isotopic ratio as found in nature. It contains 0.7 % uranium-235, 99.3 % uranium-238, and a trace of uranium-234 by weight. In terms of the amount of radioactivity, approximately 2.2 % comes from uranium-235, 48.6 % uranium-238, and 49.2 %...

 (i.e. unenriched) as fuel and magnox alloy
Magnox (alloy)
Magnox is an alloy—mainly of magnesium with small amounts of aluminium and other metals—used in cladding unenriched uranium metal fuel with a non-oxidising covering to contain fission products in nuclear reactors....

 as fuel cladding. Working pressure varies from 6.9 to 19.35 bar
Bar (unit)
The bar is a unit of pressure equal to 100 kilopascals, and roughly equal to the atmospheric pressure on Earth at sea level. Other units derived from the bar are the megabar , kilobar , decibar , centibar , and millibar...

 for the steel pressure vessels, and the two reinforced concrete designs operated at 24.8 and 27 bar. Magnox is also the name of an alloy
Alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

—mainly of magnesium
Magnesium
Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg, atomic number 12, and common oxidation number +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole...

 with small amounts of aluminium
Aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

 and other metals—used in cladding unenriched uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 metal fuel with a non-oxidising covering to contain fission products.
Magnox is short for Magnesium non-oxidising.
This material has the advantage of a low neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

 capture cross-section, but has two major disadvantages:
  • It limits the maximum temperature, and hence the thermal efficiency, of the plant.
  • It reacts with water, preventing long-term storage of spent fuel under water.


Magnox fuel incorporated cooling fins to provide maximum heat transfer despite low operating temperatures, making it expensive to produce. While the use of uranium metal rather than oxide made reprocessing more straightforward and therefore cheaper, the need to reprocess fuel a short time after removal from the reactor meant that the fission product hazard was severe. Expensive remote handling facilities were required to address this danger.

TRISO fuel


Tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) fuel is a type of micro fuel particle. It consists of a fuel kernel composed of UOX
Uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide or uranium oxide , also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of uranium, and is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite. It is used in nuclear fuel rods in nuclear reactors. A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxides is used...

 (sometimes UC
Uranium carbide
Uranium carbide, a carbide of uranium, is a hard refractory ceramic material. It comes in several stoichiometries , such as uranium monocarbide , uranium sesquicarbide ,...

 or UCO) in the center, coated with four layers of three isotropic materials. The four layers are a porous buffer layer made of carbon, followed by a dense inner layer of pyrolytic carbon
Pyrolytic carbon
Pyrolytic carbon is a material similar to graphite, but with some covalent bonding between its graphene sheets as a result of imperfections in its production....

 (PyC), followed by a ceramic layer of SiC
Silicon carbide
Silicon carbide , also known as carborundum, is a compound of silicon and carbon with chemical formula SiC. It occurs in nature as the extremely rare mineral moissanite. Silicon carbide powder has been mass-produced since 1893 for use as an abrasive...

 to retain fission products at elevated temperatures and to give the TRISO particle more structural integrity, followed by a dense outer layer of PyC. TRISO fuel particles are designed not to crack due to the stresses from processes (such as differential thermal expansion or fission gas pressure) at temperatures up to and beyond 1600°C, and therefore can contain the fuel in the worst of accident scenarios in a properly designed reactor. Two such reactor designs are the pebble bed reactor
Pebble bed reactor
The pebble bed reactor is a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled, nuclear reactor. It is a type of very high temperature reactor , one of the six classes of nuclear reactors in the Generation IV initiative...

 (PBR), in which thousands of TRISO fuel particles are dispersed into graphite pebbles, and the prismatic-block gas-cooled reactor (such as the GT-MHR), in which the TRISO fuel particles are fabricated into compacts and placed in a graphite block matrix. Both of these reactor designs are very high temperature reactor
Very high temperature reactor
The Very High Temperature Reactor , or High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor , is a Generation IV reactor concept that uses a graphite-moderated nuclear reactor with a once-through uranium fuel cycle. The VHTR is a type of High Temperature Reactor that can conceptually have an outlet temperature of...

s (VHTR) [formally known as the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR)], one of the six classes of reactor designs in the Generation IV initiative
Generation IV reactor
Generation IV reactors are a set of theoretical nuclear reactor designs currently being researched. Most of these designs are generally not expected to be available for commercial construction before 2030...

.

TRISO fuel particles were originally developed in Germany for high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. The first nuclear reactor to use TRISO fuels was the AVR and the first powerplant was the THTR-300
THTR-300
The THTR-300 was a thorium high-temperature nuclear reactor rated at 300 MW electric . The German state of North Rhine Westphalia, in the Federal Republic of Germany, and Hochtemperatur-Kernkraftwerk GmbH financed the THTR-300’s construction. Operations started on the plant in Hamm-Uentrop,...

. Currently, TRISO fuel compacts are being used in the experimental reactors, the HTR-10
HTR-10
HTR-10 is a 10 MWt prototype pebble bed reactor at Tsinghua University in China. Construction began in 2000 and it achieved first criticality in January 2003.In 2005, China announced its intention to scale up HTR-10 for commercial power generation...

 in China, and the HTTR
HTTR
The high temperature test reactor is a graphite-moderated gas-cooled research reactor in Oarai, Ibaraki, Japan operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. It uses long hexagonal fuel assemblies, unlike the competing pebble bed reactor designs....

 in Japan.


QUADRISO fuel


In QUADRISO particles a burnable neutron poison (europium oxide or erbium oxide or carbide
Carbide
In chemistry, a carbide is a compound composed of carbon and a less electronegative element. Carbides can be generally classified by chemical bonding type as follows: salt-like, covalent compounds, interstitial compounds, and "intermediate" transition metal carbides...

) layer surrounds the fuel kernel of ordinary TRISO particles to better manage the excess of reactivity. If the core is equipped both with TRISO and QUADRISO fuels, at beginning of life neutrons do not reach the fuel of the QUADRISO particles because they are stopped by the burnable poison. After irradiation the poison depletes and neutrons streams into the fuel kernel of QUADRISO particles inducing fission reactions. This mechanism compensates fuel depletion of ordinary TRISO fuel. In the generalized QUADRISO fuel concept the poison can eventually be mixed with the fuel kernel or the outer pyrocarbon. The QUADRISO http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0029549310002037 concept has been conceived at Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory is the first science and engineering research national laboratory in the United States, receiving this designation on July 1, 1946. It is the largest national laboratory by size and scope in the Midwest...

.


RBMK fuel


RBMK reactor fuel was used in Soviet designed and built RBMK
RBMK
RBMK is an initialism for the Russian reaktor bolshoy moshchnosti kanalniy which means "High Power Channel-type Reactor", and describes a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactor which was built in the Soviet Union. The RBMK reactor was the type involved in the Chernobyl disaster...

 type reactors. This is a low enriched uranium oxide fuel. The fuel elements in an RBMK are 3 m long each, and two of these sit back-to-back on each fuel channel, pressure tube. Reprocessed uranium from Russian VVER reactor spent fuel is used to fabricate RBMK fuel. Following the Chernobyl accident, the enrichment of fuel was changed from 2.0% to 2.4%, to compensate for control rod modifications and the introduction of additional absorbers.

CerMet fuel


CerMet fuel consists of ceramic fuel particles (usually uranium oxide) embedded in a metal matrix. It is hypothesized that this type of fuel is what is used in United States Navy reactors. This fuel has high heat transport characteristics and can withstand a large amount of expansion.

Plate type fuel


Plate type fuel has fallen out of favor over the years. Plate type fuel is commonly composed of enriched uranium sandwiched between metal cladding. Plate type fuel is used in several research reactors where a high neutron flux is desired, for uses such as material irradiation studies or isotope production, without the high temperatures seen in ceramic, cylindrical fuel. It is currently used in the Advanced Test Reactor
Advanced Test Reactor
The Advanced Test Reactor is a research reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, located east of Arco, Idaho. This reactor is primarily designed and used to test materials to be used in other, larger-scale and prototype reactors. It can operate at a maximum power of 250 MW and has a "Four...

 (ATR) at Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho National Laboratory is an complex located in the high desert of eastern Idaho, between the town of Arco to the west and the cities of Idaho Falls and Blackfoot to the east. It lies within Butte, Bingham, Bonneville and Jefferson counties...

.

Sodium bonded fuel


Sodium bonded fuel consists of fuel that has liquid sodium in the gap between the fuel slug (or pellet) and the cladding. This fuel type is often used for sodium cooled liquid metal fast reactors. It has been used in EBR-I, EBR-II, and the FFTF. The fuel slug may be metallic or ceramic. The sodium bonding is used to reduce the temperature of the fuel.

Spent nuclear fuel


Used nuclear fuel is a complex mixture of the fission products, uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

, plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 and the transplutonium metals
Minor actinides
The minor actinides are the actinide elements in used nuclear fuel other than uranium and plutonium, which are termed the major actinides. The minor actinides include neptunium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, and fermium...

. In fuel which has been used at high temperature in power reactors it is common for the fuel to be heterogeneous; often the fuel will contain nanoparticles of platinum group
Platinum group
The platinum group metals is a term used sometimes to collectively refer to six metallic elements clustered together in the periodic table.These elements are all transition metals, lying in the d-block .The six...

 metals such as palladium
Palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

. Also the fuel may well have cracked, swollen and been used close to its melting point. Despite the fact that the used fuel can be cracked, it is very insoluble in water, and is able to retain the vast majority of the actinides and fission products within the uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide
Uranium dioxide or uranium oxide , also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of uranium, and is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite. It is used in nuclear fuel rods in nuclear reactors. A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxides is used...

 crystal lattice.

Oxide fuel under accident conditions


Two main modes of release exist, the fission products can be vaporised or small particles of the fuel can be dispersed.

Fuel behavior and post irradiation examination (PIE)


Materials in a high radiation environment (such as a reactor) can undergo unique behaviors such as swelling http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19700006935_1970006935.pdf and non-thermal creep. If there are nuclear reactions within the material (such as what happens in the fuel), the stoichiometry will also change slowly over time. These behaviors can lead to new material properties, cracking, and fission gas release:
  • Fission gas release
    • As the fuel is degraded or heated the more volatile fission products which are trapped within the uranium dioxide
      Uranium dioxide
      Uranium dioxide or uranium oxide , also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of uranium, and is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite. It is used in nuclear fuel rods in nuclear reactors. A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxides is used...

       may become free. For example see J.Y. Colle, J.P. Hiernaut, D. Papaioannou, C. Ronchi, A. Sasahara, Journal of Nuclear Materials, 2006, 348, 229.

  • Fuel cracking
    • As the fuel expands on heating, the core of the pellet expands more than the rim which may lead to cracking. Because of the thermal stress thus formed the fuel cracks, the cracks tend to go from the center to the edge in a star-shaped pattern.


In order to better understand and control these changes in materials, these behaviors are studied. A common experiment to do this is post irradiation examination, in which fuel will be examined after it is put through reactor-like conditions http://www.scn.ro/lepi.htmhttp://www.ornl.gov/~webworks/cppr/y2001/pres/114819.pdf http://www.rertr.anl.gov/Web2002/2003%20Web/Rugirello.html http://www.nea.fr/html/trw/docs/mol98/session3/SIIIpaper2.pdf. Due to the intensely radioactive nature of the used fuel this is done in a hot cell
Hot cell
Shielded nuclear radiation containment chambers are commonly referred to as hot cells. The word "hot" refers to radioactivity.Hot cells are used in both the nuclear-energy and the nuclear-medicines industries....

. A combination of nondestructive and destructive methods of PIE are common.

The PIE is used to check that the fuel is both safe and effective. After major accidents, the core is normally subject to PIE in order to find out what happened. One site where PIE is done is the ITU
Itu
Itu is an old and historic municipality in the state of São Paulo in Brazil. The population in 2009 was 157,384 and the area is 641.68 km². The elevation is 583 m. This place name comes from the Tupi language, meaning big waterfall. Itu is linked with the highway numbered the SP-75 and are flowed...

 which is the EU center for the study of highly radioactive materials.

In addition to the effects of radiation and the fission products on materials, scientists also need to consider the temperature of materials in a reactor, and in particular, the fuel. Too high a fuel temperature can compromise the fuel, and therefore it is important to control the temperature in order to control the fission chain reaction.

The temperature of the fuel varies as a function of the distance from the center to the rim. At distance x from the center the temperature (Tx) is described by the equation
Equation
An equation is a mathematical statement that asserts the equality of two expressions. In modern notation, this is written by placing the expressions on either side of an equals sign , for examplex + 3 = 5\,asserts that x+3 is equal to 5...

 where ρ is the power density (W m−3) and Kf is the thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

.
Tx = TRim + ρ (rpellet2 - x2) (4 Kf)-1


To explain this for a series of fuel pellets being used with a rim temperature of 200 °C (typical for a BWR) with different diameters and power densities of 250 MW·m−3 have been modeled using the above equation. Note that these fuel pellets are rather large; it is normal to use oxide pellets which are about 10 mm in diameter.
Nuclear Fuel Temperature Profiles







Reference Radiochemistry and Nuclear Chemistry, G. Choppin, J-O Liljenzin and J. Rydberg, 3rd Ed, 2002, Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 0-7506-7463-6

Radioisotope battery



The terms atomic battery
Atomic battery
The terms atomic battery, nuclear battery, tritium battery and radioisotope generator are used to describe a device which uses the emissions from a radioactive isotope to generate electricity. Like nuclear reactors they generate electricity from atomic energy, but differ in that they do not use a...

, nuclear battery and radioisotope battery are used interchangely to describe a device which uses the radioactive decay to generate electricity. These systems use radioisotopes that produce low energy beta particles or sometimes alpha particles of varying energies. Low energy beta particles are needed to prevent the production of high energy penetrating Bremsstrahlung radiation that would require heavy shielding. Radioisotopes such as tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

, nickel-63
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

, promethium-147
Promethium
Promethium is a chemical element with the symbol Pm and atomic number 61. It is notable for being the only exclusively radioactive element besides technetium that is followed by chemical elements with stable isotopes.- Prediction :...

, and technetium-99
Technetium-99
Technetium-99 is an isotope of technetium which decays with a half-life of 211,000 years to stable ruthenium-99, emitting soft beta rays, but no gamma rays....

 have been tested. Plutonium-238
Plutonium-238
-External links:**...

, curium-242
Curium
Curium is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Cm and atomic number 96. This radioactive transuranic element of the actinide series was named after Marie Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie. Curium was first intentionally produced and identified in summer 1944 by the group of...

, curium-244
Curium
Curium is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Cm and atomic number 96. This radioactive transuranic element of the actinide series was named after Marie Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie. Curium was first intentionally produced and identified in summer 1944 by the group of...

 and strontium-90
Strontium
Strontium is a chemical element with the symbol Sr and the atomic number 38. An alkaline earth metal, strontium is a soft silver-white or yellowish metallic element that is highly reactive chemically. The metal turns yellow when exposed to air. It occurs naturally in the minerals celestine and...

 have been used.

There are two main categories of atomic batteries: thermal and non-thermal. The non-thermal atomic batteries, which have many different designs, exploit charged alpha
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

 and beta particle
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

s. These designs include the direct charging generators, betavoltaics
Betavoltaics
Betavoltaics are generators of electrical current, in effect a form of battery, which use energy from a radioactive source emitting beta particles . A common source used is the hydrogen isotope, tritium...

, the optoelectric nuclear battery
Optoelectric nuclear battery
An opto-electric nuclear battery is a device that converts nuclear energy into light, which it then uses to generate electrical energy. A beta-emitter such as technetium-99 or strontium-90 is suspended in a gas or liquid containing luminescent gas molecules of the excimer type, constituting a "dust...

, and the radioisotope piezoelectric generator
Radioisotope piezoelectric generator
A Radioisotope piezoelectric generator converts energy stored in the radioactive material directly into motion to generate electricity by the repeated deformation of a piezoelectric material...

. The thermal atomic batteries on the other hand, convert the heat from the radioactive decay to electricity. These designs include thermionic converter, thermophotovoltaic cells, alkali-metal thermal to electric converter, and the most common design, the radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

Radioisotope thermoelectric generators


A radioisotope thermoelectric generator
Radioisotope thermoelectric generator
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator is an electrical generator that obtains its power from radioactive decay. In such a device, the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material is converted into electricity by the Seebeck effect using an array of thermocouples.RTGs can be...

 (RTG) is a simple electrical generator
Electrical generator
In electricity generation, an electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. A generator forces electric charge to flow through an external electrical circuit. It is analogous to a water pump, which causes water to flow...

 which converts heat into electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

 from a radioisotope using an array of thermocouple
Thermocouple
A thermocouple is a device consisting of two different conductors that produce a voltage proportional to a temperature difference between either end of the pair of conductors. Thermocouples are a widely used type of temperature sensor for measurement and control and can also be used to convert a...

s.

has become the most widely used fuel for RTGs. In the form of plutonium dioxide
Plutonium dioxide
Plutonium oxide is the chemical compound with the formula PuO2. This high melting point solid is a principal compound of plutonium. It can vary in color from yellow to olive green, depending on the particle size, temperature and method of production....

 it has a half-life of 87.7 years, reasonable energy density and exceptionally low gamma and neutron radiation levels. Some Russian terrestrial RTGs have used ; this isotope has a shorter half-life and a much lower energy density, but is cheaper. Early RTGs, first built in 1958 by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, have used . This fuel provides phenomenally huge energy density, (a single gram of polonium-210 generates 140 watts thermal) but has limited use because of its very short half-life and gamma production and has been phased out of use in this application.

Radioisotope heater units (RHU)



Radioisotope heater unit
Radioisotope heater unit
Radioisotope heater units are small devices that provide heat through radioactive decay. They are similar to tiny radioisotope thermoelectric generators , and normally provide about one watt of heat each, derived from the decay of a few grams of plutonium 238, although other radioactive isotopes...

s normally provide about 1 watt
Watt
The watt is a derived unit of power in the International System of Units , named after the Scottish engineer James Watt . The unit, defined as one joule per second, measures the rate of energy conversion.-Definition:...

 of heat each, derived from the decay of a few gram
Gram
The gram is a metric system unit of mass....

s of plutonium-238. This heat is given off continuously for several decades.

Their function is to provide highly localised heating of sensitive equipment (such as electronics in outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

). The Cassini–Huygens orbiter to Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

 contains 82 of these units (in addition to its 3 main RTG's for power generation). The Huygens probe to Titan
Titan (moon)
Titan , or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found....

 contains 35 devices.

Fusion fuels


Fusion fuels include tritium (3H) and deuterium (2H) as well as helium-3 (3He). Many other elements can be fused together, but the larger electrical charge of their nuclei means that much higher temperatures are required. Only the fusion of the lightest elements is seriously considered as a future energy source. Although the energy density of fusion fuel is even higher than fission fuel, and fusion reactions sustained for a few minutes have been achieved, utilizing fusion fuel as a net energy source remains a theoretical possibility.

First generation fusion fuel


Deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

 and tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 are both considered first-generation fusion fuels; they are the easiest to fuse, because the electrical charge on their nuclei is the lowest of all elements. The three most commonly cited nuclear reactions that could be used to generate energy are:
2H + 3H n
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

 (14.07 MeV) + 4He (3.52 MeV)

2H + 2H n
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

 (2.45 MeV) + 3He (0.82 MeV)

2H + 2H p
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 (3.02 MeV) + 3H (1.01 MeV)

Second generation fusion fuel


Second generation fuels require either higher confinement temperatures or longer confinement time than those required of first generation fusion fuels, but generate fewer neutrons. Neutrons are an unwanted byproduct of fusion reactions in an energy generation context, because they are absorbed by the walls of a fusion chamber, making them radioactive. They cannot be confined by magnetic fields, because they are not electrically charged. This group consists of deuterium and helium-3. The products are all charged particles, but there may be significant side reactions leading to the production of neutrons.
2H + 3He p
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 (14.68 MeV) + 4He (3.67 MeV)

Third generation fusion fuel



Third generation fusion fuels produce only charged particles in the primary reactions, and side reactions are relatively unimportant. Since a very small amount of neutrons is produced, there would be little induced radioactivity in the walls of the fusion chamber. This is often seen as the end goal of fusion research. 3He has the highest Maxwellian reactivity of any 3rd generation fusion fuel. However, there are no significant natural sources of this substance on Earth.
3He + 3He 2p
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 + 4He (12.86 MeV)


Another potential aneutronic fusion reaction is the proton-boron reaction:
p
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 + 11B → 34He


Under reasonable assumptions, side reactions will result in about 0.1% of the fusion power being carried by neutrons. With 123 keV, the optimum temperature for this reaction is nearly ten times higher than that for the pure hydrogen reactions, the energy confinement must be 500 times better than that required for the D-T reaction, and the power density will be 2500 times lower than for D-T.

See also

  • Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
    Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
    The International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation formerly the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership began as a U.S. proposal, announced by United States Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman on February 6, 2006, to form an international partnership to promote the use of nuclear power and close...

  • Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
  • Nuclear fuel bank
    Nuclear fuel bank
    A nuclear fuel bank is a proposed approach to provide countries access to enriched nuclear fuel, without the need for them to possess enrichment technology...

  • Nuclear fuel cycle
    Nuclear fuel cycle
    The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel through a series of differing stages. It consists of steps in the front end, which are the preparation of the fuel, steps in the service period in which the fuel is used during reactor operation, and steps in...

  • Reprocessed uranium
    Reprocessed uranium
    Reprocessed uranium is the uranium recovered from nuclear reprocessing, as done commercially in France, the UK and Japan and by nuclear weapons states' military plutonium production programs. This uranium actually makes up the bulk of the material separated during reprocessing...

  • Uranium market
    Uranium market
    The uranium market, like all commodity markets, has a history of volatility, moving not only with the standard forces of supply and demand, but also to whims of geopolitics. It has also evolved particularities of its own in response to the unique nature and use of this material.The only significant...

  • Integrated Nuclear Fuel Cycle Information System
    Integrated Nuclear Fuel Cycle Information System
    Integrated Nuclear Fuel Cycle Information System is a set of databases related to the nuclear fuel cycle maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency . The main objective of iNFCIS is to provide information on all aspects of nuclear fuel cycle to various researchers, analysts, energy...


PWR fuel


BWR fuel


CANDU fuel


TRISO fuel


QUADRISO fuel


CERMET fuel


Plate type fuel


Space reactor fuels


Fusion fuel