Small, even tiny nuclear reactors are being introduced left and right. If they succeed then the era of large nuclear reactors might be coming to an end.
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Small Nuclear Energy Is The Future
More and more evidence is piling up that large nuclear reactors are no more the thing to build. One piece of evidence is the incredible experimental micro-reactor Aurora that will be built in the state of Idaho in the USA. It has been developed by a start-up company named Oklo for which this innovative micro-reactor should be its first commercial device. On top of that, in comparison with current technologies, it creates less nuclear waste. But Oklo is just one of a number start-ups and companies that are working hard on improving nuclear energy – especially when it comes to its size and safety.
But really, it's not even that complicated. Small and tiny reactors – like the one from Oklo – are by nature safer. And it is simpler to build them and to operate them making it cheaper. Some of these smaller nuclear reactors should even use recycled nuclear fuel. And obviously, the smaller reactors will use much less fuel than the large ones.
Truly Tiny Reactor
The Aurora micro-reactor is quite unique when it comes to energy production. It should produce 1.5 MW of energy making it one of the smallest nuclear reactors ever – including the “ancient” reactors from when we were starting to make them. Currently, the smallest reactor produces 11 MW and the recently built Russian “floating Chernobyl” produces over 30 MW.
In December of 2019 Oklo got approval to build the Aurora micro-reactor from the USA. This is the first-ever permit to build a different than a light-water reactor. The micro-reactor uses a fuel that is called HALEU (High-assay, low-enriched uranium). Thanks to this fuel it should be capable of getting more energy from the same amount of fuel in comparison with conventional nuclear reactors. This is important as the small nuclear reactors need to be economically viable to become a success. On top of that, the HALEU fuel provides the reactor with better longevity and lower production of nuclear waste.
On the other hand, we need to remember that developing micro-reactors isn't easy. One of the biggest problems at this time for Oklo is time. Oklo wants to start the Aurora micro-reactor sometime between 2022 and 2025. Experts say this is truly a tight deadline. But if they manage it will be one of the quickest reactor launches in US history.
If Oklo succeeds and flies through the difficult approval process for nuclear reactors they likely will create an incredible precedent for other similar projects. They will become a good example that it is possible to approve micro-reactor in a shorter time and that will (hopefully) result in faster innovation in the field of nuclear technologies. And that is exactly what we need to have cheap and safe nuclear energy all over the world.
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