Since the ‘70’s fuel for nuclear power plants has been made from uranium at URENCO in Almelo: fissile materials. But what does the process actually look like?
Uranium is a mineral resource taken from the earth. Even though uranium already glows from itself, it is not enough to produce heat, for example, and boil water. What you need is the little bit of uranium-235, which is instable and falls apart. To be able to separate this instable uranium from the ‘normal’ uranium, uranium-238, a special technology was developed by URENCO. Ten thousands of centrifuges are revolve around their axis more than a thousand times each second. That is faster than a F16 jet on full speed. What happens next? The process is similar to that of a common juicer. Just like to tasty juice is separated from the dispensable pulp, the fissionable uranium is separated from the uranium that is difficult to fissile. The result is a fissile material that can be used to generate electricity in a nuclear plant.
In commercial enrichment plant like URENCO, (low)enriched uranium is produced with around four to five percent fissionable uranium-235. In the past, highly enriched uranium was also made in special enrichment installation, which was mostly applied in the military sector, for example for weapons and submarines with nuclear propulsion. Because of the international disarmament treaties there was a surplus of a lot of highly enriched uranium and the production of it was halted.
In addition, URENCO also produces stabile – non-radioactive – isotopes for industrial, medical and scientific appliances. They are used, for example, to decrease the amount of radiation in nuclear reactors or to inspect welds and trace construction faults in metal. Hospitals use stabile isotopes to diagnose patients, treat tumours and to relief pain.