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Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Nuclear Fuel Cycle

ANSTO is the home of Australia's nuclear expertise. As the operator of Australia's only nuclear reactor, we address key scientific questions in the nuclear fuel cycle for both the current generation of nuclear reactors and future systems. 

The nuclear fuel cycle encompasses all activities associated with the use of uranium for operating research reactors and nuclear power generation.

The nuclear fuel cyle starts with the mining of uranium and ends with the disposal of nuclear waste. There is also the option of reprocessing used fuel to separate out the waste from the unused uranium which can be refabricated into MOX fuel for reuse in reactors. 

To prepare uranium for use in a nuclear reactor, it undergoes the steps of mining and milling, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication. These steps make up the 'front end' of the nuclear fuel cycle.

After uranium has completed its lifecycle in a reactor the used fuel may undergo a further series of steps including temporary storage, reprocessing, and recycling before wastes are disposed of temporarily or permanently. Together these steps are known as the 'back end' of the fuel cycle.

Gordon Thorogood Nuclear Fuel Cycle researcher


Nuclear fuel cycle research extends to all aspects of the cycle from the mining of uranium through to the disposal of nuclear waste. Our key areas of focus include:

  • the development of improved fuels for advanced  reactor  designs
  • investigation of materials for use in nuclear systems, structures and components, and the effects of irradiation, corrosion and high temperature on their structural properties
  • advancing the understanding of the management of spent fuel and associated waste forms

This research takes advantage of ANSTO’s unique capabilities including specific expertise in waste forms, the capacity to undertake theoretical predictions of fuel properties, and expertise in modelling advanced materials properties under extreme conditions, used in the nuclear industry.  The current focus on the properties of accident-tolerant fuels and advanced fuels has strengthened scientific collaborations with industry and other research groups and created the potential for commercial linkages.

Nuclear fuel cycle researchers support the development of the ANSTO Synroc waste treatment technology, as well as other critical activities at ANSTO such as the operation of the OPAL reactor and the production of nuclear medicine in the Nuclear Precinct.

ANSTO represents Australia on the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) and provides timely and comprehensive advice to Government on nuclear technologies. The forum supports collaborative long-term research on advanced nuclear power reactor technologies, which are safer and more sustainable. ANSTO’s research in Generation IV is carried out by Nuclear Fuel Cycle researchers.

Out of the six proposed advanced reactor systems by GIF, Australia participates by focusing on research on Very High-Temperature Reactors (VHTR) and Molten Salt Reactors (MSR). ANSTO’s ongoing involvement is based on its extensive experience and expertise in waste, in the properties of materials under extreme conditions and in structural integrity research.

ANSTO staff are also leading and coordinating a cross-cutting investigation into how Advanced Manufacturing and Materials Engineering could be used to reduce the deployment time of Generation IV reactors, as well as supporting high-level GIF activities, including the GIF Risk and Safety Working Group, and public education and communication in line with GIF outreach.

In collaboration with universities, NFC  researchers are also supporting the ITER nuclear fusion research project in the areas of plasma-facing materials, and plasma diagnostic imaging.

Strategic Priorities

  • Researching fuels for nuclear reactors

    The development of improved fuels for advanced reactor designs

    ANSTO conducts research on fuels for current and future nuclear reactors. We focus on increasing understanding of the key properties and behaviour of fuel during its burn-up in a reactor, in particular, addressing areas where there are knowledge gaps.  This includes investigating the properties of inert matrix fuels, accident tolerant fuels, molten salt fuels and cladding.

  • Understanding the behaviour of materials exposed to extreme conditions

    Investigation of materials for use in nuclear systems, structures and components, and the effects of irradiation, corrosion and high temperature on their structural properties

    ANSTO researchers undertake studies to investigate the effects of high temperature and radiation damage on structural materials used in nuclear reactors with the aim of increasing their reliability. It includes contributing  to the development of advanced materials for current and future reactors.

  • Understanding the management of spent fuel and associated wasteforms

    Advancing the understanding of the management of spent fuel and associated waste forms

    ANSTO undertakes research on the key properties of nuclear waste and its long term interaction with containment materials with the goal of further improving the safety of waste management and storage. It encompasses studies of the structure and behaviour of the actinides and lanthanides.

Did you know?

ANSTO operates Australia's only multi-purpose nuclear reactor