The cost, safety, and efficiency of nuclear power depend on managing the whole nuclear fuel cycle, from mining ore in the ground to milling the ore, enriching the uranium, using it efficiently in reactors to generate electricity, and returning it responsibly to underground storage.
Canada is fortunate to have some of the richest uranium deposits in the world, and the methods for extracting uranium ore from the ground economically and responsibly depend on the locations and conditions of those deposits.
Before it can be used in nuclear reactors, uranium ore must be refined – and, for some reactor designs, the reactive isotope of the uranium must be concentrated. Finally, the uranium must be processed into pellets that can be inserted into reactor cores.
Though various designs differ in their methods, all nuclear power plants trigger and control a chain reaction in uranium fuel, generating heat. This heat is used to boil water, creating steam that spins electricity-generating turbines.
Reactor designs around the world reflect more than half a century of innovation. Each of the various approaches to generating power have different economic, safety, and efficiency advantages.
The signature Canadian design for nuclear power generation uses natural uranium and heavy water. Though the design is complex, its advantages include low fuel costs and the ability to refuel the reactor and test its safety systems while operating.