Saturday, July 11, 2009

What is meant by Uranium Enrichment?

The uranium enriched in uranium-235 is needed in commercial light water reactors to produce a highly controlled nuclear reaction. Several different processes have been used to enrich uranium such as, Enriching Uranium, Gaseous Diffusion, Gas Centrifuge and Laser Separation.

Enriching Uranium Process:

Enriching the uranium increases the amount of "middle-weight" and “light-weight” uranium atoms and all uranium atoms are not the same? While mining the uranium it consists of heavy-weight atoms (about 99.3% of the mass), middle-weight atoms (0.7%), and light-weight atoms uranium, which means that they all contain 92 protons in the atom’s center (that’s what makes it uranium). The heavy-weight atoms hold 146 neutrons, the middle-weight hold 143 neutrons, and the light-weight have just 142 neutrons. To refer to all these isotopes, scientists add the number of protons and neutrons and put together after the name such as, uranium-234 or U-234, uranium-235 or U-235, and uranium-238 or U-238.

The fuel for nuclear reactors must have a higher concentration of U-235 than exists in natural uranium ore. Since, U-235 is the key ingredient that begins a nuclear reaction and keeps it going. Usually, the amount of the U-235 isotope is enriched from 0.7% of the uranium mass to about 5%. Gaseous diffusion is the only process being used in the United States to commercially enrich uranium. Gas centrifuges can also be used to enrich uranium.

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