Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Stage I – Mining

Once an ore body is discovered and defined by exploration, there are three common ways to mine uranium, depending on the depth of the ore body and the deposit’s geological characteristics:

  • Open pit mining is used if the ore is near the surface. The ore is usually mined using drilling and blasting.
  • Underground mining is used if the ore is located too deep to make open pit mining economical Tunnels and shafts provide access to the ore.
  • In situ (ISR) recovery does not require large excavation but rather uses holes that are drilled into the ore and a solution is used to dissolve the uranium. The solution is then pumped to the surface where the uranium is recovered.

Stage II – Milling

  • Ore from the open pit and underground mines is processed to extract the uranium and packaged as a powder typically referred to as uranium concentrates (U3O8) or yellowcake. The leftover processed rock and other solid waste (tailings) is then sent to an engineered tailings facility.

Stage III – Refining

  • Refining removes the impurities from the uranium concentrate and changes its chemical form to uranium trioxide (UO3).

Stage IV – Conversion

  • For light water reactors, the UO3 is converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas to prepare it for enrichment. For heavy water reactors like the CANDU reactor, the UO3 is converted into powder uranium dioxide (UO2).

Stage V – Enrichment

  • Uranium is made up of two main isotopes: U-235 and U-238. Only the U-235 atoms are involved in the nuclear reaction (fission). Most of the world’s commercial nuclear reactors require uranium that has an enrichment level of U-235 atoms.
  • The enrichment process increases the concentration of U-235 to a range between 3% to 5%, by separating the U-235 atoms from the U-238. Enriched UF6 gas is then converted to powdered UO2.

Stage VI – Fuel Manufacturing

  • Natural or enriched Uranium Dioxide (UO2) is pressed into pellets, which are baked at a high temperature. These are packed into stainless steel tubes, sealed and then assembled into fuel bundles.

Stage VII - Generation

  • Nuclear reactors are used to generate electricity. U-235 atoms in the reactor fuel fission, creating heat that generates steam to drive turbines which produce electricity. The fuel bundles in the reactor need to be replaced as the U-235 atoms are depleted, typically after one or two years depending upon the reactor type. The used-or-spent fuel is stored or reprocessed.

With sufficient funding, the business strategy for the Company includes the acquisition of known historical ore reserves and processing it all the way through Stage III above.  Note – Stages IV – VII are controlled by the utility companies as they will tailor the enrichment of the yellowcake to the specific needs of their reactors.