One of the World’s Tiniest Nuclear Plants Is Coming to Idaho
The demonstration represents a new-generation of micro-reactors.
An experimental nuclear reactor in Idaho could be the first of its kind in the United States: a commercial reactor providing power using fuel that reduces nuclear waste. The small power plant could power about 1,000 homes and can run almost autonomously for 20 years.
This project comes from Oklo, that claims its reactor would be the “first ever” one to generate power through nuclear waste. But Oklo is just one of many groups working on ways to make localized and safer nuclear power as a bridge between the energy status quo and a more carbon neutral future.
“Every scenario presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for keeping the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, relies on nuclear providing a growing share of our electricity,” the environmental blog Grist explains.
There are a few overarching ideas these aspiring innovators share. First, much smaller nuclear reactors—whether that’s relatively small versions of “full size” commercial reactors or truly localized small reactors like Oklo’s—are inherently safer. Imagine trying to wipe up a spill of a few drops of soda versus an entire two-liter bottle. It’s also easier and cheaper to build containment for smaller reactors.
Second, many of these innovative designs want to use a new or different format of nuclear fuel in their reactions. Some are using recycled waste products, some are using chemical reactions that can generate power without reaching “critical” state—and smaller reactors in particular require a lot less fuel, which, means there’s less toxic waste.