The reusable uranium is turned into a powdered form, processed into fuel pellets and sent back for use in nuclear reactors. Each six-gramme pellet holds the equivalent energy of one tonne of coal. British Nuclear Fuel (BNFL) says three pellets can provide a family's needs for an entire year.
Increasing emphasis is also being laid on the scope for recycling plutonium, in the form of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) in thermal reactors. MOX production lines are operated by BelgonuclÃ©aire in Belgium and by COGEMA in France; others are being built or expanded in a number of European countries. MOX fuel is being manufactured in Europe at plants in Dessel (Belgium), Marcoule (France) and Sellafield (UK) and is being used in reactors in France, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere. MOX reprocessing in Russia is currently carried out at Chelyabinsk, but will be switched to the new large integrated complex plant being built at Krasnoyarsk.
A number of countries, including the UK, France and Japan, have expressed their intention to extract the plutonium content from their used uranium fuel. Some or all of this is for storage as weapon-grade material. The nuclear industry claims there is also scope for using thermal or fast reactors to burn plutonium from military stockpiles.