Idaho National Laboratory sprawls across nearly 900 square miles in the southeastern corner of its namesake state. Home to America’s first nuclear power plant, INL has served as the proving grounds for the future of nuclear energy technology for decades. Along the way, the lab has generated hundreds of tons of uranium waste that is no longer efficient at producing electricity. The spent fuel resides in temporary storage facilities while politicians duke it out over where to bury it. Most of this spent fuel will probably end up underground, although where and when are open questions. As it turns out, a lot of people aren’t thrilled by the idea of having nuclear waste buried in their backyards. But at least some of the spent fuel may have a second chance at life feeding advanced nuclear reactors that will be smaller and safer than their predecessors. For the past year, scientists at INL have started recycling spent uranium to meet the fuel needs of a new generation of small commercial reactors. Last week, INL tapped the nuclear energy startup Oklo as the first company to gain access to its stock of recycled uranium fuel. Oklo’s reactor, known as Aurora, will be a lot different from the reactors on the grid today. Each of America’s 96 nuclear reactors are housed on sprawling campuses and are capable of providing anywhere from 600 to 4,000 megawatts of power. Aurora, meanwhile, will look like a small A-frame cabin and generate just 1.5 megawatts. Oklo’s reactor also departs from legacy nuclear systems in its fuel of choice. Known as “high-assay, low-enriched uranium” or Haleu, this fuel packs more energy into a smaller package.
Wired 27th Feb 2020 read more »