A very important case is the PUREX process (plutonium-uranium extraction process), which is used to separate the plutonium and the uranium from the spent fuel products from a nuclear reactor, and to be able to dispose of the waste products. Then, the plutonium and uranium are available for making nuclear-energy materials, such as new reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.
Ion-exchange beads are also an essential component in in-situ leach uranium mining. In-situ recovery involves the extraction of uranium-bearing water (grading as low as 0.05% U3O8) through boreholes. The extracted uranium solution is then filtered through the resin beads. Through an ion-exchange process, the resin beads attract uranium from the solution. Uranium-loaded resins are then transported to a processing plant, where U3O8 is separated from the resin beads, and yellowcake is produced. The resin beads can then be returned to the ion-exchange facility, where they are reused.
The ion-exchange process is also used to separate other sets of very similar chemical elements, such as zirconium and hafnium, which incidentally is also very important for the nuclear industry. Zirconium is practically transparent to free neutrons, used in building reactors, but hafnium is a very strong absorber of neutrons, used in reactor control rods.