Silicon Valley Start-up Plans to Build 1.5MWe Micro-Reactors Powered by Nuclear Waste

Oklo, a nuclear energy start-up has planned to build and deploy several micro-reactors with a capacity of only 1.5MWe. The micro-reactors have potential to supply small-scale customers with low-carbon electricity such as university campuses, utility companies, industrial sites and will also contribute to quick and efficient reuse of nuclear waste

A scientist works at the Idaho Nuclear Laboratory, USA. Credit: Idaho Nuclear Laboratory’s official Flickr page

A scientist works at the Idaho Nuclear Laboratory, USA. Credit: Idaho Nuclear Laboratory’s official Flickr page

A small start-up based in Silicon Valley has come up with the idea to build micro-reactors of 1.5MWe which can be used in small-scale energy situations such as university campuses, utility companies, industrial sites, large companies. The start-up, called Oklo has designed the micro-reactors in such a way that they will be powered by waste generated by large-scale nuclear power plants.

Oklo has based the economic viability of its micro-reactors on three aspects: they are faster to build, they use fuel more efficiently and will not require any human interventions to operate. This is counter to how nuclear reactors typically justify their economic value.

Alex Gilbert of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance (a think tank working on nuclear power) explained: “Microreactors are an exciting innovation that completely flips the technology story for nuclear energy. Historically, nuclear energy producers aimed to be competitive with “economies of scale,” meaning they save money by being massive. 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.”

Because of their small size, these micro-reactors could potentially serve areas with low-carbon electricity where the demand is lesser than cities, states or countries on a whole. Early last year, Oklo received permission from the Idaho National Laboratory to access their nuclear waste in order to demonstrate its fast reactor technology.

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