Nuclear fuel production

Uranium is the primary fuel for nuclear reactors. It must be managed properly to produce nuclear fuel in a safe and sustainable manner. Advanced fuels like thorium, as well as fuel cycles that involve reprocessing, present other alternatives to sustainably produce nuclear energy.

Managing the uranium production cycle in a responsible manner involves a number of issues: the exploration and assessment of resources; mining and processing; technology selection and testing; prefeasibility and feasibility studies; construction and operation; and, finally, the appropriate closure of a uranium production site. All stages of this cycle must be based on good practices and aim for a minimal impact on environment and society.

The IAEA supports its Member States in all aspects of the uranium production cycle. It organizes technical meetings and workshops and offers technical advice. It also disseminates up-to-date information on the status of the world’s uranium resources and its production.

Through the Integrated Nuclear Fuel Cycle Information Systems and its publications, the Agency reports on uranium deposits around the world, classifying deposits and providing technical as well as geological information about them. It prepares projections of uranium requirements and distributes information on uranium exploration and responsible mining and milling, covering not only uranium deposits but also mineral deposits that yield uranium as a secondary product.

The IAEA also assists Member States that are exploring for uranium resources or are seeking to develop them. While these may not yet have the adequate technological infrastructure and suitably trained human resources, the Agency can help them apply the best practices available that are appropriate to their individual circumstances.

Supporting Member States with advanced and innovative technologies

Advanced nuclear fuels and fuel cycles can present an alternative to the use of uranium. There are important aspects that influence the choice of advanced nuclear fuel cycles: they should be safe, resistant to proliferation and economically efficient, while generating as little waste and impact on the environment as possible.

Member States are increasingly interested in the thorium fuel cycle as a sustainable means for growing the use of nuclear energy. Major incentives for this are the natural abundance of thorium; its inert nature and better thermo-physical properties compared to uranium; a high burnup capability; its suitability for high conversion ratio fuel cycles; and its inherent proliferation resistance characteristics.

Using up-to-date information and projection scenarios, the IAEA helps its Member States develop advanced and innovative technologies that can solve issues emerging from nuclear fuel cycle activities. In the field of advanced fuel cycle technologies, it works on enhancing the technologies for the processing and management of nuclear fuel cycle materials, with the aim to improve existing mechanisms and practices in this field.

The Agency also supports the development of proliferation resistant fuel cycles in Member States by exchanging information on technologies used to dispose of separated plutonium; reprocessed and depleted uranium, other nuclear materials arising from the nuclear fuel cycle, as well as high enriched uranium and  plutonium that was used in the defence industry.