Nuclear Engineering Division

Nuclear Chemical Engineering

Closing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle


Used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are materials produced by nuclear power plants or from government defense programs. Currently, used nuclear fuel is stored in specially designed pools at individual reactor sites around the country while high-level radioactive waste is stored at government facilities.

The current baseline approach is to package the used fuel and to vitrify the waste for safe storage and eventual permanent disposal. An alternative approach for the fuel is to recycle it. The overall toxicity, fissile content and volume of the waste produced is reduced while the fissionable elements are recycled for energy production.

The objective of Argonne's work is to develop separations processes (aqueous and pyrochemical) that enable the implementation of sustainable nuclear energy systems, which

  • Optimize energy production and resource utilization
  • Manage fission product waste in an environmentally responsible manner
  • Are economical

The focus of R&D activities is on developing commercially viable technologies with

  • Robust process chemistry and engineering
  • High product quality
  • Scalability
  • Minimal production of secondary waste
  • Ability to meet U.S. non-proliferation objectives
Closing the nuclear fuel cycle diagram
Diagram: Closing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Design Processes to Meet Requirements for Fuel Recycle and Reduced Radiotoxicity

Through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Research and Development (AFCR&D) program, Argonne has led development of separations technologies for the recycle of actinides to advanced reactors and disposal of the high-risk elements in durable, leach-resistant waste forms for geologic disposal. Argonne has successfully developed and demonstrated entire separations processes such as UREX+ and uranium electrorefining using prototypic process equipment. We continue to develop novel systems to improve efficiency and reduce the costs associated with reprocessing used nuclear fuel in partnership with other national laboratories.


This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Fuel Cycle Research and Development Program.


Related Information

Last updated: 08/12/16