Enrichment: the basics
Quick 'Chemistry 101' Refresher
Naturally occurring Uranium (U) is composed of 2 major isotopes, all have the same Atomic Number but different Atomic Weights. These isotopes have similar chemical properties but different nuclear properties.
- â€¢ U-238 The most plentiful/abundant; over 99% of nature uranium is U-238.
- â€¢ U-235 The only fissile uranium isotope; approximately 0.72% of natural uranium is U-235.
Atomic Mass refers to 1 atom, describing a single Isotope of an element.
Uranium cannot be used as a fuel or weapon in its natural state. To
be used as reactor fuel or bomb manufacture, U-235 must be separated from natural
U-235 is the only fissile isotope in natural Uranium (U), therefore Uranium must be "enriched" to have a higher percent concentration of U-235.
U-235 Concentration needed for:
- This level of uranium is called Low Enriched Uranium (LEU)
- Referred to as Weapons Grade or Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)
Gaseous Diffusion Enrichment Process
Gaseous Diffusion is the method used at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to enrich uranium. See the process broken down to the molecular level.