A 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. Alex Gilbert, a project manager for nuclear power think tank the Nuclear Innovation Alliance said that the Microreactors are an innovation that completely flips the technology story for nuclear energy.
The nuclear energy producers aimed to be competitive with economies of scale which means they save money by being massive. This strategy 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.
Gilbert added that the Mini Nuclear Reactors promise to turn this paradigm on its head by approaching cost competitiveness through technological learning. 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.
Oklo is planning to build a specific kind of nuclear power generator called a fast reactor that is meant to be more efficient than traditional generators, allowing it to get energy out of spent fissile fuel.DeWitte said that in nuclear fission when a larger atom is split into two, the resulting smaller nuclei are going about 15,000 kilometers per second.Marc Nichol, NEI’s senior director of new reactor deployment and the project lead for the 2019 report, said that a fast reactor operates in a way that does not slow down the neutrons. When companies use thermal reactors they contain a moderator, water in today’s reactors, that slows down the neutrons.