Nuclear reprocessing is the chemical separation of fission products and actinides from spent nuclear fuel. Originally, reprocessing was used solely to extract plutonium for producing nuclear weapons. With commercialization of nuclear power, the reprocessed plutonium was recycled back into MOX nuclear fuel for thermal reactors. The reprocessed uranium, also known as the spent fuel material, can in principle also be re-used as fuel, but that is only economical when uranium supply is low and prices are high. Nuclear reprocessing may extend beyond fuel and include the reprocessing of other nuclear reactor material, such as Zircaloy cladding. The high radioactivity of spent nuclear material means that reprocessing must be highly controlled and carefully executed in advanced facilities by specialized personnel. Numerous processes exist, with the chemical based PUREX process dominating. Alternatives include heating to drive off volatile elements, burning via oxidation, and fluoride volatility (which uses extremely reactive Fluorine). Each process results in some form of refined nuclear product, with radioactive waste as a byproduct. Because this could allow for weapons grade nuclear material, nuclear reprocessing is a concern for nuclear proliferation and is thus tightly regulated. Relatively high cost is associated with spent fuel reprocessing compared to the once-through fuel cycle, but fuel use can be increased and waste volumes decreased. Nuclear fuel reprocessing is performed routinely in Europe, Russia, and Japan. In the United States, the Obama administration stepped back from President Bush's plans for commercial-scale reprocessing and reverted to a program focused on reprocessing-related scientific research. Not all nuclear fuel requires reprocessing; a breeder reactor is not restricted to using recycled plutonium and uranium. It can employ all the actinides, closing the nuclear fuel cycle and potentially multiplying the energy extracted from natural uranium by about 60 times.
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Plutonium management in the medium term

Rakesh Chawla

For many years various countries with access to commercial reprocessing services have been routinely recycling plutonium as UO2/PuO 2 mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in light water reactors (LWRs). This LWR MO
American Nuclear Society2004
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Nuclear fuel is material used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines. Heat is created when nuclear fuel undergoes nuclear fission. Most nuclear fuels contain heavy fissile actinide elements that are capable of undergoing and sustaining nuclear fission. The three most relevant fissile isotopes are uranium-233, uranium-235 and plutonium-239. When the unstable nuclei of these atoms are hit by a slow-moving neutron, they frequently split, creating two daughter nuclei and two or three more neutrons.
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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 the back end, which are necessary to safely manage, contain, and either reprocess or dispose of spent nuclear fuel.
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