Oklo has a plan to make tiny nuclear reactors that run off nuclear waste

Via CNBC |

The face of nuclear energy is changing, and one of the companies working to redefine what nuclear energy looks like is Oklo. The 22-person Silicon Valley start-up has a plan to build mini-nuclear reactors, powered by the waste of conventional nuclear reactors and housed in aesthetically pleasing A-frame structures.

“Microreactors are an exciting innovation that completely flips the technology story for nuclear energy,” Alex Gilbert, a project manager for nuclear power think tank the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, told CNBC.

Historically, nuclear energy producers aimed to be competitive with “economies of scale,” meaning they save money by being massive, Gilbert said. That strategy, however, often results in construction projects being mired in delays and cost overruns, like the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, where estimates for the project have ballooned from $14 billion to an estimated $27 billion or more.

“Microreactors promise to turn this paradigm on its head by approaching cost competitiveness through technological learning,” Gilbert said.

Oklo is the brainchild of the husband-and-wife co-founder team, Jacob DeWitte and Caroline Cochran, who met when they were teaching assistants in 2009 for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Reactor Technology Course for utility executives with nuclear power plants as part of their grid.

Very small nuclear reactors

Bill Gates’ fission company, TerraPower, is already selling the idea that it’s building smaller reactors than are typically used in conventional nuclear power plants.

But DeWitte said Oklo will build reactors “far smaller” than the ones TerraPower is building. TerraPower’s main nuclear reactor, the Natrium, will have a capacity of 345 megawatts of electrical energy (MWe), where the first Oklo reactor, called the Aurora, is expected to have a capacity of 1.5 MWe, making it a true micro-reactor. A 2019 report prepared by the Nuclear Energy Institute defined micro-reactors to be between one and 10 MWe. Other companies in the space include Elysium IndustriesGeneral AtomicsHolosGenNuGen and X-energy, to name a few.


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