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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal


In nuclear power technology, burnup (also known as  fuel utilization) is a measure of how much energy is extracted from a primary  nuclear fuel source. It is measured both as the fraction of fuel atoms that underwent fission in %FIMA (fissions per initial metal atom) and as the actual energy released per mass of initial fuel in  gigawatt-days/metric ton of heavy metal (GWd/tHM), or similar units.

(Source: Wikipedia)


To understand "burnup," it helps to know more about the uranium that fuels a reactor. Before it is made into fuel, uranium is processed to increase the concentration of atoms that can split in a controlled chain reaction in the reactor. The atoms release energy as they split. This energy produces the heat that is turned into electricity. In general, the higher the concentration of those atoms, the longer the fuel can sustain a chain reaction. And the longer the fuel remains in the reactor, the higher the burnup.

In other words, burnup is a way to measure how much uranium is burned in the reactor. It is the amount of energy produced by the uranium. Burnup is expressed in gigawatt-days per metric ton of uranium (GWd/MTU). Average burnup, around 35 GWd/MTU two decades ago, is over 45 GWd/MTU today. Utilities now are able to get more power out of their fuel before replacing it. This means they can operate longer between refueling outages. It also means they use less fuel.

(Source: NRC)