The US Government is working with a small California-based company to develop advanced fuel recycling technology that can potentially solve some of nuclear power's waste problem.
Oklo, a nine-year-old company based in the heart of Silicon Valley, is collaborating with the Argonne National Laboratory (the government's initial nuclear testing and technology development facility spun out from the super-secret World War II-era Manhattan Project) to develop and commercialize fuel recycling tech.
Together with Argonne, Oklo is trying to commercialize a process that takes nuclear fuel and cuts it into component parts that are then melted using an electric furnace at temperatures of 500 to 1000 degrees.
It's all part of a big push from the U.S. to kickstart a new push into nuclear development and comes as a host of other countries are spending billions to modernize the nuclear industry.
In France, a new initiative will have the country spend billions the development of 14 new nuclear reactors. The country expects to begin building the reactors in 2028 with the first new reactor commissioned by 2025, according to a report by CNN.
"Given the electricity needs, the need to also anticipate the transition and the end of the existing fleet, which cannot be extended indefinitely, we are going to launch today a program of new nuclear reactors," Macron said in a statement quoted by the network.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions are one reason for the development of these new reactors, and geopolitical concerns over Russian control of vital natural gas supplies are another. For decades, Russia has supplied Western Europe with natural gas for energy and home heating. Now, as the country looks poised to invade the neighboring nation of Ukraine, Western European countries view energy independence as critical to reduce their reliance on Russian gas.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the federal government unveiled a nuclear credit program worth $6 billion to keep existing nuclear plants up and running.
“U.S. nuclear power plants are essential to achieving President Biden’s climate goals and DOE is committed to keeping 100% clean electricity flowing and preventing premature closures,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes this all possible by allowing us to leverage our existing clean energy infrastructure, strengthen our energy security and protect U.S. jobs. DOE is facilitating the development of next generation technologies that can ultimately lower emissions and bolster the clean energy workforce.”
In the U.S. nuclear power accounts for over half of all greenhouse gas emissions free energy supplied in the country. There are currently 93 reactors operating in the U.S.
And several newer, more modern reactors, which can run on the kind of recycled fuel that Argonne and Oklo want to commercialize are waiting in the wings.
Oklo itself has a design for a small modular reactor that could produce about 1 megawatt of power currently in the permitting and application phase with America's Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And two other small modular reactor companies, NuScale Power and TerraPower both have reactor designs that they're trying to get built at sites around the U.S.
“This partnership with Argonne will help reduce fuel costs for advanced reactors, and therefore overall costs for power from advanced fission,” said Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo. “There are tremendous energy reserves in used fuel that can provide emission-free power for entire nations for centuries while reducing the volume and radiological lifetime of waste material,” added DeWitte.