Commercial uranium enrichment has been performed using two primary methods: gaseous diffusion and gas centrifuge. The American Centrifuge Plant will use centrifuge machines based on U.S. gas centrifuge technology.
How Does a Centrifuge Work?
Modern gas centrifuge machines all operate in the same basic way:
- Uranium hexafluoride that has been heated to a gaseous state is fed into a rotor inside the centrifuge machine. The rotor spins at a high speed inside a steel casing. The casing maintains the rotor in a vacuum and provides safety containment in case of a failure inside the machine.
- The centrifugal force created by the spinning rotor concentrates the heavier U-238 isotopes at the outer wall of the rotor and the lighter U-235 isotopes toward the rotor center.
- Gas circulation inside the rotor carries the U-235, the product or enriched stream, towards the top of the rotor and the U-238, the tails or depleted stream, towards the bottom of the rotor.
- Methods of collecting both streams are positioned accordingly within the machine and the product and depleted streams are then fed on to the next machines in the cascade.