How Uranium Becomes Nuclear Fuel

There’s a lot of talk about nuclear technology,
what with Iran and Fukushima and Green Energy being thrown around every day. But how do
we even MAKE nuclear fuel? Howdy atomic children, Trace here for DNews…
Despite the controversy they often raise, nuclear power plants are a huge source of
energy. The Environmental Protection Agency says nuclear power accounts for about 20%
of electricity production in the U.S. One of the reasons why is because it’s the most
efficient means of extracting energy from a fuel source – about 8,000 times more efficient
than coal or oil. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a fingertip-sized pellet
of nuclear fuel contains as much energy as “17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds
of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.” Nuclear energy comes in two flavors, fusion or fission. Fusion
is when two hydrogen atoms fuse — this happens in stars; and fission is when large “heavy”
atoms are broken apart. Both release energy, and both have pros and cons, but so far, we’ve
only figured out nuclear fission; so when I say fuel, I’m talking about fuel for nuclear
fission. Nuclear fuel is commonly referred to in the
news, as “highly-enriched Uranium,” but getting it to that point requires a LOT of effort.
In 1941, Enrico Fermi, created the first controlled nuclear chain reaction using a small amount
of uranium-235; and since then we’ve gotten much better at taking uranium and creating
usable fuel from it. Uranium ore is most commonly mined in Canada,
Australia, Niger, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Namibia; though it’s not THAT rare — it’s
40 times more prevalent than silver in the Earth’s crust. Once drilled or dug out of
the ground, the uranium atoms are mixed in with the surrounding minerals — so it has
to be processed — this involves some pretty intense chemistry. First, the ore is crushed,
and then heated, to dry out carbon content (like clay) so it can be washed away. That
slurry of ore and water is leached with sulfuric acid. These processes cause the uranium atoms
to bond with the sulfur and oxygen forming uranium oxide liquid. To get it to that yellow
powder we recognize from movies, the uranium is pulled out of solution using ammonia. This
“yellow cake” uranium is put in barrels and shipped off to be purified even MORE. At this
point the uranium isn’t super radioactive, yet… If you stood one meter from a barrel
full of U three O eight, you’d get no more radiation than from the cosmic rays hitting
passengers on a commercial airplane. This uranium still needs to then be enriched
before it can be used in power generation. That yellow cake uranium is 99.3 percent Uranium
238 and only 0.7 percent of uranium-235. To make the fuel, scientists need that U235 isotope
— this is where the now-famous nuclear centrifuges come in. If you watch the news, you know Iran
is developing a nuclear program — whether for energy or weaponry, I’ll leave that to
the experts; but they use centrifuges to enrich that uranium. As things go forward from here, it gets more
dangerous, and more radioactive, so the engineering has to be VERY precise or people can die.
First, they take the yellowcake uranium and they turn it into a gas by creating a reaction
with fluorine — the resulting uranium hexafluoride gas is even MORE pure than yellowcake and
ready to go in a centrifuge. A centrifuge is a giant spinning container designed to
use physics in order to separate materials. When you donate plasma, doctors draw blood
and spin it in a centrifuge. During the spinning, centrifugal — or center fleeing — forces
cause the heavier red blood cells to come out of solution and collect as far from the
center as possible; lighter plasma stays nearer the inside! In the case of uranium, it’s the
same. The heavier U238 isotopes get thrown outward, allowing the lighter U235 to stay
closer to the middle. It’s not as good as blood, because there’s only a 1 percent difference
in mass; so it has to be spun again and again in centrifuge after centrifuge THOUSANDS of
times. Eventually, the gas in the middle of the centrifuge gets more and more concentrated
— or ENRICHED! The gas is MORE U235! Once the fuel is 5 percent U235 (95 percent U238)
it’s suitable for some nuclear reactors. Others require as high as 20 percent. But that’s
nowhere NEAR enriched enough for nuclear weapons, which can require as high at 90 percent U235. Once it’s reached the desired enrichment for
the type of power plant you want to run, the enriched uranium hexafluoride has to be turned
into a solid by adding calcium. The calcium and fluoride react, creating a salt, leaving
behind only uranium oxide, which is heated to 1400C and extruded into tiny ceramic pellets.
Those uranium pellets are, in turn, put into rods, and then hundreds or thousands of those
rods can be placed in various configurations inside a nuclear power plant. When we talk about nuclear energy programs
in other countries, world leaders get nervous. And now that you know the process, can you
see why? The massive centrifuges used make nuclear fuel, are the same ones that could
create weapons grade uranium. It requires a lot of technical and chemical knowledge
to GET to that point, but in the end it’s dig uranium out, clean it up, and then spin
it! Nuclear energy continues to be a controversial
choice for powering the future, and it’s connection to nuclear weapons is clear, but how do you
feel about nuclear energy?

100 thoughts on “How Uranium Becomes Nuclear Fuel

  1. Okay now just a few tons of uranium, a centrifuge and some land in Russia. I will become Nuclear Nadal

  2. Nuclear Power Plants are for making Nuclear Bombs, have been from day one you Common Core Idiots
    Get a Clue.

  3. @seeker You guys should be thankful to HBO for Chernobyl and these many viewer brought them here..hahaha

  4. I wonder if we could have had medical uses of radiation without using uranium and plutonium for power generation?
    One is incredibly useful while the other works at exact opposites to create the very problem needing to be fixed.
    I hope some day we won't have to deal with the use of radioactive materials to do mundane tasks not worth the incredible risks associated.

  5. The stock photo you guys used at the start of the video isn’t a nuclear power station at all. It’s a coal fire station near my house in Australia.

    No joke check this out…

    It kinda of hard to take this video seriously now…..

  6. Just delete uranium then we have to convert to Thorium which can't be made into nuclear weapons.

  7. Hahahaha now I know step one for how to start making nuclear weapons and take over the world !!!

  8. Nuclear power is like a fork u can use it for good or u can use it for bad. it is pretty insane the waste that come out of nuclear reactors thats the only thing i be worried about.

  9. 4:39 can someone explain me why are they standing next to the box of u235? lol why is it safe? it's not so radioactive?

  10. If Chernobyl disaster didn't happen nuclear would have been widely used today but because of it people freaked out. However if it didn't happen we wouldn't have been able to understand & prevent such a catastrophe. My point is like everything in science as time goes on we become smarter & I'm all for Nuclear Power plants.

    just to put it in perspective on Sim City which a lot of people play nuclear gets bashed whereas other sources don't & that alone influences how many minds? A lot.

  11. The Candu heavy water reactors don't need to enrich the Uranium, therefore are safer and less of a concern for weapons proliferation.

  12. So who decides who can have nuclear weapons or energy ? USA ? Killing thousand ppl viciously in iraq, Afghanistan , Vietnam , and in many other places, what about Israel ? Have over 100 nuclear weapons , killing thousands Palestinians continuously ? Those countries kill thousands innocents and threatening the rest of the world may have nuclear weapons but other countries can not even have nuclear energy.. world fucked up so bad.

  13. I am for nuclear power and here's why, burning coal creates pollution, how many people die from coal related pollution we don't know but I am sure it is a lot, in south wales an entire village was wiped out when a slag heap slid off a mountain the slag was from a coal mine, how many miners world wide have died in mining accidents during the time since we started using coal. Oil, how many people die due to pollution from burning oil, we don't know, how many oil workers have died since we have started using oil, how much world wide environmental damage has oil caused, I'm thinking oil tankers? Now how many people have died as a direct result of nuclear power, we know cancer deaths are related but you don't need radiation to get cancer, your mobile phone will do nicely. The environmental damage from nuclear, well lets go to Chernobyl and look at how well the wildlife is doing, animals that were once very rare are now common and thriving in what is said to be uninhabitable landscape. The facts are that so called fossil fuels are more dangerous than nuclear but the majority of people are to blind or too ignorant to see it, yes radiation is dangerous, but 5G is a more serious concern that and nuclear power station that is well managed and maintained.

  14. Something i dont understand. Say iran builds a nuclear bomb and uses it on isreal. Do they know (iran) thats the end of their country! Troops from russia and israel and america will pour on mass and just rip the country to shreds? So why do it?

  15. Wait a minute. How is filling a big bin of those fresh new U235 pellets @4:38 safe when a reactor full of pellets in metal rods and shielded with control rods is hazordous?!

  16. I say keep researching it until a solution where nuclear waste is very small. Right now not only the rods but a lot of equipment becomes nuclear waste.
    It should not be used for energy within the next ten years at least.

  17. Strongly support nuclear energy, especially using molten salt reactors instead of light water or using Thorium instead of Uranium.

  18. It's crazy to think that small tray of uranium pellets have as much extractable energy potential as a pile of coal the size of a house.

  19. What an important topic. Nuclear fission being used for power is an example of our acquired knowledge through the scientific method being applied for the true betterment of mankind. It’s where the rubber really meets the road. Thanks for doing this. But what we need are more nuclear energy champions to combat the Helen Caldicotts of the world. To answer the question as to whether or not renewables such as Solar can answer our future power needs and combat climate change, the short answer is no. They simply cannot scale to the enormous levels we need. Nor are they reliable. Look no further than Germany’s failed energiewende vs France’s situation for proof of this.
    Realistically we need to leave nature alone as much as possible to fix it. What’s the best way to do this? First, don’t compete. No other species on this planet consumes nuclear fuel. Second, where we must impact the environment, minimize that impact. We do that through energy density. Contrast the copious land coverage required for solar energy to the relatively tiny footprint of a molten salt reactor. Finally, nuclear waste isn’t the boogie man. Again due to the density. All the nuclear waste the US has generated from its power uses in the last 60 years fit in a moderate parking lot. Contrast that to the coal ash from a single coal plant in a single year. Conclusion? Why haven’t we already gone fully nuclear? The fear of nuclear weapons simply shouldn’t stop us. That genie is already out of the bottle. But thanks for the great video.

  20. the only ones that used Atomic Bomb where americans, not the people, but the goverment! They talk now about peace and order, but they are constantly provocative to other nations…they will do it again, in the name of peace in the middle east! I wonder who's behind?…maybe Israel?

  21. In my opinion its a fine.Nuclear weapons create a deterrent from hostile nations and make other countries think twice about attacking such a country.It may be "cleaner" than coal but then you have all the waste.Which if some people get their hands on could make a dirty bomb.I am all for Nuclear energy but I can see why once you have a reactor how tempting it can be to create weapons.Iran ..well they have been known to sponsor terrorism and destabilization in the middle east.They threaten other countries on a regular bases so it is in the worlds best interest that they don't get the chance to possess such devices.

  22. Very dangerous, Iran USA Russia China all the world hope they don't ruin the world we are humans no one has the right to ruin the world with dirt , diseases, cancer there's no extra planet Earth

  23. Nuclear fuel is the future 👍🏻🙌🏻👏🏻✌🏻🤘🏻👌🏻☝🏻🖖🏻🤙🏻💪🏻

  24. So can a test tube with this pellets could heat up water? Or is t need something else?
    And how small can a nuclear powerplant be made? For example the size of a refrigerator?

  25. .. nasa = religion = you Believe everything these morrons in a labcoat tell you. like a priest or prophet?

    Believing in NASA means doom for your soul. NASA is thus a religion, a Belief, cause you never went to space yourself. You just have to Believe what any Sodomite tells you.

    That in itself is a Belief/Religion. Away from the Creator/ God, and therefore Demonic/ satanic.

    To conclude:

    If NASA is your religion, you are a Satanist and doomed.

    Damned is the correct description and legal term.

  26. nuclear is the future. Let's build a gigantic nuclear plant on the dry part of Antarctica and power the whole world!

  27. How much energy can one pellet generate?

    So if I had this pellet shoot neutrons to him would the chain reaction start and heat up the Pellet?

  28. If you think there's a difference between nuclear for energy and nuclear for weapons your have been sorely misled.

  29. So what you're saying is, those centrifuges are the only means to make nuclear bombs. Power plants, which all buy 5% U235 pellets from suppliers, cannot create nuclear explosions.

  30. Honestly, I think it's the most visible form of electricity until we can Do nuclear fusion effective and safer

  31. making uranium 235 is of course a pain in the ass, but making plutonium isotope 239 is quite easier because all it requires is a 2 step process in reactors by bombarding U-239 with neutrons

  32. 4:10
    You can create nuclear weapn with 20% of U235, you will have to have much more of it than if you had 90% but stillit is very possible.

  33. 0:30 poorly worded. Nothing about a nuclear power plant “extracts energy more efficiently.” It should say nuclear fuel is the densest form of fuel in energy and that’s it. Talk about efficiency is beside the point.

  34. Liquid Thorium Molten Salt Reactor is the safest and most efficient method for using nuclear fission to create heat for electricity generation via steam.

  35. nuclear power is the most efficient way of electric generation but my ultimate fear is, where will we dispose the used uranium/plutonium residues??????????????????????

  36. This is the most toxic fuel on the planet, everything from digging it out the ground, processing it for use not to mention all the chemicals it brake's down to . These chemicals can last from several hours to million's of years in the air and water table.

  37. It might be all that efficient Plumbing is also all that very much dangerous at the same time is it worth the trade-off of another Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or Fukisumia.. it's only a matter of time before the next major disaster happens. there's already a runaway core burning its way through our planet from Fukisumia that no one knows where it's at or the damage it's doing. Worst of all what that damage means for our kids and great grandkids.. We need to do more like the Swiss(I think) and their 0 emissions oil platforms drilling rig processing plants they have. And there wind and solar Technologies.

  38. I'm the leader of the land locked nation of ME. Just bought some old Kenmore washers and plan on doing some digging in my backyard…PS Galen Windsor🤔

  39. Ez. Place U235 in a thermal centrifuge, wait a few minutes, grab the tiny piles of U238 and throw it into your crafting table with the U235 to create Enriched Uranium Nuclear Fuel.

    Don't forget to wear a scuba helmet though or you'll get radiation poisoning…

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