Nuclear fuel cycle

Prof. Pierre Van Iseghem – Université de Liège
Prof. Hubert Druenne – Université de Liège


90 hours study time

26,5 contact hours theory

7 contact hours excersises/lab sessions/visits

0 contact hours personal work

Learning Outcomes

The objective is to provide students an overall view of the fuel cycle, from cradle to grave:

  • The front-end of the fuel cycle: ore extraction, conversion and enrichment, fuel fabrication and use in the power plant, spent fuel reprocessing and recycling of re-enriched reprocessed U and Pu as MOX in PWR
  • The back-end of the fuel cycle: the radioactive waste management, ranging from waste characteristics, waste treatment technologies, disposal technologies, safety assessment of geologic disposal


First part – The front-end of the fuel cycle (H. Druenne)

  • Description of main U minerals and deposits, and of exploration, ore extraction and treatment techniques
  • Conversion of concentrated ores and U enrichment: basic principles of isotopic separation, theory of the cascade (symmetrical cascade) and description of the main techniques (gas diffusion, ulra-centrifugation, LASER and others).
  • Choice of the materials, description of the various current commercial core designs and fuel types, and fabrication process.
  • Isotopic evolution under irradiation, residual heat and source term.
  • Reprocessing of UO2 fuel elements: description of the PUREX process
  • Recycling of U and Pu: technology and industrial limits, equivalence principle
  • Interim storage : description of the main concepts for dry and wet storage

Second part – The back-end of the fuel cycle (P. Van Iseghem)

  • Categories, inventory of radioactive waste 
  • Conditioning and immobilisation of radioactive waste
  • Characterization of radioactive waste (general; scaling factors; destructive analysis; non-destructive analysis)
  • Introduction into radiochemistry (fundamentals; techniques used for radioactive tracers and sources)
  • Assessment of the safety of geological disposal (methodology; some typical results from the safety assessment)
  • Impact of new fuel cycles on radioactive waste disposal
  • Geological repositories: key criteria for designing a disposal concept, overview of ongoing international programmes, and discussion of the Belgian supercontainer concept
  • Technical visits to the Belgoprocess facility and to the ESV underground research laboratory in clay on the SCK•CEN site 

Course material and reference books

The PowerPoint presentations of the lectures, and extensive lecture notes, are available on the BNEN website.

Pre-assumed knowledge or prerequisites

Courses in the following field
  • Nuclear energy: introduction
  • Introduction to nuclear physics and measurements

Basic chemistry, material sciences, nuclear physics

Grading and examination

  • First and second session: Oral examination for each part (weighting factor 50%-50%); written preparation.
  • Technical visitis are compulsory and cannot be repeated in the second session (no report required).