There was a large amount of hand-wringing about the risk of avalanches and other natural disasters that were extremely low probability.
They were skimpy on interesting details about the reactor such as "What do you do if the sodium coolant catches on fire?" (e.g. sodium burns in water, sodium burns in air, sodium burns in carbon dioxide) There are good answers to that in the U.S. and Russian experience. They don't draw on that experience to show they can solve it.
If they fix the application and submit it again it could get approved.
1. The company is totally opaque on even basic design details. This is not ghost mode. It's likely hiding incompetence and lack of design work / maturity.
2. It's a fast reactor so lots of high energy neutrons that will cause faster material degradation, higher maintenance cost, more downtime - the economics for fast reactors have never worked (not even in Russia or China), and this is probably why fusion reactors will never be economical (32x greater neutronicity).
3. It has terrible fuel utilization: 1% burn-up of fuel, with 100 metric tons uranium / GWe-year compared to 5-10% in other normal and advanced reactors.
4. The founders lie to congress claiming their reactor “can consume the used fuel from today’s reactors” when each reactor is actually going to require 3 tons of pretty pristine HALEU...
5. The founders peddle some serious BS (bitcoin mining, TED talks ... etc) not unlike the other great MIT nuclear startup Transatomic.
6. NRC really went out of their way to publicly reject this with press release and all. This was not done lightly to a company often featured in the WSJ and Popular Mechanics.
7. I'm disturbed by the way they talk about their reactor as a "community meeting place" with their modern glass A-frame without any power generating equipment. Is there going to be a daycare center or country club in there? Where the hell are the cooling towers? I'm all for nuclear power, but we shouldn't be down playing the seriousness of nuclear power systems.
One of the most interesting features of the FFTF was a sodium-to-air heat exchanger which is a key to fast reactors having superior economics.
That is, no nuclear reactor which uses a steam turbine is going to be economically competitive with fossil fuel fired gas turbine generators. Between the absolutely huge and massive steam turbine and absolutely huge and massive heat exchangers (look at how big the steam generators are in the PWR or the huge tube-in-shell heat exchanger used at Dounreay)
A closed cycle gas turbine will fit in the employee break room of the turbine house of a conventional LWR. It requires some kind of reactor that runs at a higher temperature than the LWR. I like fast reactors and molten salts but have a hard time being enthusiastic about HTGR and friends.
So much of the literature still looks like a stopped clock. People still compare nuclear to coal although coal has been economic for a long time for the same reason as the LWR... The cost of that huge steam turbine.
Problems with fast reactors I worry about are the fear of proliferation (not proliferation) constricting what you can use for fuel and (more so) the plutonium nanoparticle problem w/ MOX fabrication. Of course you don't need to use MOX or you'd think in 2022 you could use 100% remote handling and not have the problems that Karen Silkwood was worried about at the place where she worked.
It's definitely true that simple cycle gas turbine plants are much cheaper than equivalent size steam plants. This right here sets the bar for any kind of thermal power plant.
See table ES3 for cost comparisons..
OK, but FFTF reactor has not generated electricity at all. How is “sodium to air heat exchanger” supposed to generate electricity, to make it more economical than steam turbines?
> That is, no nuclear reactor which uses a steam turbine is going to be economically competitive with fossil fuel fired gas turbine generators.
That’s highly likely to be true (at least until cheap gas runs out, which will happen at some point, though it will take many decades/centuries until then), but I thought we are aiming to get off fossil fuels, no? We should be willing to pay some premium for nuclear, because it does not emit GHG.
Nuclear also competes with fossil fuel powerplants that capture carbon. There are many options such as: (1) turn the fuel to hydrogen and burn the hydrogen, (2) run the exhaust gas through an amine stripper, (3) burn the fuel in pure oxygen so the amine stripper has less work to do (recycle the combustion products so the turbine doesn't burn up), (4) chemical looping combustion that uses a metal like iron as an oxygen carrier, etc.
The cost of something like that doesn't look crazy, optimizing it is a job for the systems engineering department, you can compress the CO2 to 1500 psi and inject it into saline aquifers which exist in most places. (Drives me nuts that carbfix gets so much press for a process which only works in a few places and consumes much more water than the carbon it captures)
It is not happening because regulators aren't forcing it, there is no carbon tax or carbon credit for it.
You could save the world with a nuclear option that is truly cheaper than the alternatives without subsidy. Anything that involves subsidy is going to give somebody an opportunity to get rich by siphoning off 5% of the credits and keep the gravy train running by paying 1% of that to politicians. Anything like that will run into intense opposition, look like a scam to people, probably be a scam in many cases (extortion like "we'll cut down this forest if you don't pay us" and then the forest gets cut down or burned anyway, unverifiable schemes like grinding up rocks and leaving them at the beach, ...) damage the legitimacy of the government and delay real solutions.
I'll add that supercritical CO2 sounds like science fiction to people, but it's actually been pretty well demonstrated at the small sizes. The scaling up is what needs to happen if it's used at sizes beyond a few MWe. We've worked with vendors who have these available at the <5 MWe scale.
And I'll second what you're saying about subsidy. The incredible subsidies out there, if I didn't care about fission, would make me agree with those that are effectively anti-nuclear. If those hundreds millions and billions to single companies are necessary to * ever * get a single nuclear plant built, it just doesn't add up that it will be successful without all that propping it up. I agree it isn't necessary to subsidize, and that's how we believed it was important to run our company to date.
In this case, I'll name names, and I hope this isn't taken in a malicious sense because it isn't meant that way. But I've always wondered why Bill Gates, one of the wealthiest humans on the planet, would go to Capitol Hill for money for his nuclear company. I think I've learned that it's for reasons along the lines of what you said there. Creating a self-sustaining government program goes a long way to guaranteeing that the government cares about your company, and anyone else along the trail of $. I'm not blaming that, of course it is smart, it is just intriguing what paths occur.
PS also agree on "carbfix" - that while I'm all for all solutions to climate issues, it is wild to me too how much press that carbfix gets too in comparison to at least my perception of its reality of potential. But i suspect it goes back also to a great govt relations piece...
Basically you're praying for China to succeed at this point. They have full blown LFTR research underway and I think other reactor designs under aggressive research.
Alas private funding of reactor designs is a not starter at this moment, with battery/wind/solar in rapidly evolving economies of scale and R&D. Solar/Wind is closing in on beating the leveled cost of gas turbines, and a reactor project wouldn't hit the market for ten years.
What's the economics of battery/wind/solar at that point? Salt water or Li-Sulfer batteries that are ultracheap, ultracheap but decently efficient perovskite or other techs? Too murky.
I agree we should be funding reactor techs in the billion-per-year range in the US (take it from the boondoggle fusion funding if you have to) and keeping close watch on China's progress, but probably all nuclear startups are fraud for the next decade.
IIRC the Oklo design is using metal fuel, like EBRII or IFR? And the Russians are apparently working to switch from MOX to nitride fuels in their fast reactors.
Anyway, the French have been producing MOX fuel at industrial scale for decades, AFAIK without poisoning their workers. Maybe they are doing it smarter than the Americans in the 1970'ies.
At that factory Karen Silkwood worked (fuel for the FFTF) at they were making the workers wear respirators 100% of the time because they couldn't eliminate detectable particles.
I think in the US that's considered unacceptable. I think the French consider it OK.
The French tried to build a MOX factory in the US near the Savannah River Site last decade and it was never completed. I think there was some circle they realized they couldn't square. The UK was able to reprocess nuclear fuel and produce plutonium powder but they were unable to turn it into quality MOX fuel.
Metal fuels have a small particle problem too but you can melt the metal, pour it into a glass tube, then break the tube... All things straightforward to do with remote handling in the 1950s.
On paper nitride fuels are very high performing but I have no idea what goes into making them. It seems that with advances in robotics remote handling in fuel fabrication should be capable of much more than it ever was.
Hmm. Dealing with Pu dust is a well known problem. Nobody knows exactly why, but Pu dust has an amazing capability to rapidly contaminate things. Best guess is that the high alpha activity of Pu produces a lot of recoil events propelling the Pu dust particle around (increasing it's diffusion constant, if you will).
I don't know exactly what the French do to make it work, is it PPE's, robotic handling or whatever.
> On paper nitride fuels are very high performing but I have no idea what goes into making them.
It's in some respects similar to making oxide fuels, you first somehow create microgranules (hopefully evenly sized) of the fuel which you then sinter into pellets. Nitrides, however, present several additional challenges. But it seems that these are not insurmountable problems, it's just that oxides have a large head start; and nitrides not being compatible with LWR's doesn't help finding R&D money either. Here's a recent overview: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6267113/
Personally I'm somewhat bullish on nitrides, if large-scale use of metal cooled reactors ever becomes a thing, that is.
OTOH, the high temperature opens up interesting industrial applications outside electricity generation.
One of the coolest sounding ideas is the "pebble bed" reactor where you have carbide coated spheres that are fed into the top of the reactor and get withdrawn from the bottom, taken up an elevator and replaced.
When they tested this out in air the spheres we well lubricated and slipped past each other. In hot helium the Germans found that there was a lot more friction and the spheres were sticking to each other, cracking, getting stuck, and releasing radiation.
"Prismatic" designs where the same material is in blocks seem a little more promising. Still the reactors haven't done that well and as lurid the stories around the plutonium economy have been, the ratio of progress to problems for the liquid metal fast breeder reactor has been better.
We know how to bury oxide fuels for the long term and we know how to reprocess them. If there is a "what to do about the waste" problem it's that we can't make up our minds. Carbide fuels can be encapsulated in concrete and stored for the medium term but the actual mass and volume of the fuel is dramatically more than the LWR fuel because of the low power density. The long term stability for burial is not established, and the amount of material is 10x more. Reprocessing is not developed and faces the problems of dealing with a large amount of 'filler' that is going to be somewhat radioactive and have to be dealt with.
The demonstration High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor - Pebble-bed Module (HTR-PM) at the Shidaowan site in Shandong province of China has been connected to the grid, the partners in the consortium building the plant have announced.
I'll submit that a nuclear startup that presents such a stylish Architectural Digest concept for its facilities, that by itself is enough for us to be extremely skeptical of the leadership team. Their head is in the wrong place.
You will counter-argue that it takes little effort for them to hire an artist-designer to create the rendering. Nonetheless: their head is in the wrong place. They're not reading the room. None of us (not the public and not the NRC) are looking for a new alpine lodge to grab an espresso. We basically just care that you don't blow up and you don't poison the land, water, and air around you.
If leadership spend any cycles to spend on hiring a stylish designer, then their priorities aren't straight.
I guess then again here I am as part of the leadership engaging in communicating with the HN community on a friday night and hopefully transparently answering questions. I guess I can't help myself! I do think the public needs to both learn about the realities of fission, and I don't think it has to be ugly.
Are you trying to guilt trip people by showing your dedication? It's in your own interest to do this, if you don't feel like it go and watch TV or something and don't bother. "Here I am on a Saturday morning commenting on HN etc..."
PS I realized that you thought the structure was glass. No wonder. It's not, it's steel panels. Modular construction. There are optional solar panels on the exterior, maybe that's what you saw.
Russia currently has two sodium-cooled fast reactors that are producing power, the BN-600 and BN-800. They also have another sodium reactor under development, the BN-1200. BREST-OD-300, a lead-cooled fast reactor, is under construction as well.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems's ARC has an interesting approach to handling this -- using a liquid blanket which can be circulated. Of course, ARC isn't built yet! But if that approach is workable, perhaps it can be applied more generally?
"Bob Mumgaard, CEO of Commomwealth Fusion Systems, regards neutron flux as part of a fusion power plant’s wear-and-tear—a routine aspect of its servicing cycle, happening perhaps once or twice a year. “We can simplify the internal components, develop maintenance scenarios,” he says. “We have such a scheme substantially in place.”"
1) There's certainly many hundreds of pages/slides in the fully public docket on the NRC website, but the easiest source for the most information in one place is our application itself: bit.ly/AuroraCOLA. I don't expect anyone to want to read that entire thing either, but it's there. The only main things that are withheld are generally either: export controlled (defined by the Department of Energy, and we take it seriously) which includes detailed core maps, or security-related information (defined by the NRC). But the rest of it is all there. If there's something you want to know that isn't there, I'm happy to respond.
2) We are building our designs off the 30 years of experience and data with EBR-II and other fast reactors (http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/pdfs/PlentifulEnergy.pdf). EBR-II was ended prematurely for political reasons and had plenty of life left. The EBR-II showed how electricity could be put on the grid with higher uptimes than even the commercial fleet at the time. Unfortunately, I can't give details, but let's just say other major developers of historical fast reactors didn't release their economics because they didn't want it to cannibalize their other plants. But you don't need to believe that either. Our business model is to provide power via PPA so if the economics don't work for the customer we simply won't have a deal. Our FOAK plants are economic already in remote or higher cost areas, but the real key to our economics is when we are able to recycle existing waste, a fact unique to fast reactors.
3) 1% was really to be conservative for the FOAK, to try to make the licensing of the FOAK simpler within the datasets we had. I assume you know a number of SFRs have worked toward establishing datasets for up to and beyond 15% burnup. I really don't know where the number of 100 MT of uranium comes from. We would have <5MT total of fuel for 20 years, with <1T of that being uranium. 1.5MWex24hrx350days/yrx20 years is something like 250 GWe?
4) Oof. Yes, fast reactors can consume the fuel from today's reactors, and even though that supply chain isn't established, the FOAK is using waste fuel from EBR-II. I can assure you it is not pristine. No one else wants it. :) But we are working together with the DOE on a project with Argonne National Lab to begin work on the recycling from today's reactors (https://www.energy.gov/articles/doe-announces-over-65-millio...).
5) Hm. well, I want to be positive here: I'd argue there's a difference between our first customer announcement being Compass and a TEDx with my alma mater, and moving forward for years with something that fellow students and professors said had fundamental issues since grad school, which a professor finally leaked to the press out of frustration (and yes, we might have been fellow students). It's funny, I always said we should never do a TED too because they seem so smarmy, but a friend at my undergrad and the students there were organizing a TEDx and honestly it was cute and was just a fun opportunity to go back there for various reasons. We've been working with other more traditional customers in ways that we can't announce yet. But, we are working with other customers you'll likely approve of more. Remote communities as well as big companies just truly do need reliable power and they do want it to be emission-free.
6. They did seem to go out of their way didn't they. More will come on this once we are able to put out our own account too after 30 days, just because we should have the opportunity to set the record as well. But, to put myself in their shoes, they are trying to defend against an appeal or legal action. Neither of which we really have interest in, we just want to try again, move forward.
7. I responded to this with Paul. TL;DR: I don't think an attractive and functional building with all required security and operational characteristics means we are "down playing the seriousness." If you've been out to these truly poor, remote communities in the Arctic circle as I have, you'll see why they care about having heated, lighted, indoor areas in the long winters. And when the analysis shows the safety and security required, why wouldn't we offer that to them?
Well, there you go. Feel free to pick it apart but hopefully it added some context to the press releases and pretty pictures and whatnot.
I had previously gone though the Oklo COLA, which is indeed hundreds of pages. But quantity is not always quality. I have seen the same types of submissions from other reactor proponents, and they are far more detailed, comprehensive, and informative and they are mostly at earlier stages of NRC engagement in pre-application discussions. As an example, I can't find a basic dimensioned or labeled reactor drawing or system diagram in Oklo's COLA. As far as the COLA illustrates, the Aurora design consists of an A-Frame drawing and a cylindrical vessel in a dugout. The safety analysis provided are generally simplified, rarely showing uncertainties or limitations of the analysis. See the NuScale or GE-Hitachi designs in pre-application or even the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) as an example of a well documented research thrust that has not even begun the regulatory process if it ever will: https://tcr.ornl.gov/publications/
As far as spent fuel goes, the EBR II fuel that Oklo plans to use took decades to reprocess at a cost much greater than 0, which Oklo is not paying for. EBR II is not a civilian power generating reactor like all LWRs and BWRs currently in operation. Perhaps one day, reprocessing spent fuel will be cost effective. But today, it is a totally unnecessary activity as there's plenty of uranium and spent fuel storage is not an issue. I think telling congress that Aurora will consume spent fuel from today's reactors is false and disingenuous, both because it is extremely expensive to do so and because it is not particularly useful.
Aurora is ostensibly a tiny fast reactor, though I have to guess at this as there are no dimensioned figures in the COLA. Neutron leakage is going to be big and burnup low. This might be why Aurora is limited to 1% burnup. Maybe Oklo plans to make much larger reactors in the future, which have very different safety characteristics but can achieve higher burnup. It's curious that of the 70+ reactors in development, there are no fast spectrum and tiny reactors except for Oklo. There are fast reactors like TerraPower Natrium but they 200x larger than Aurora.
The calculation for tons / GWe-yr is as below assuming a 33% efficient power cycle (reasonable given the low temperatures of the heat pipes, but maybe the sCO2 is really good). GWe-yr is a unit of energy.
1.5 MWe * 20 yr means you are producing 4.5 MWth for 20 years, and must have fissioned 35 kg of Uranium (you get 200 MeV per U fission which is 2.6 MWyr / kg U). If 1% burnup is assumed, as indicated, Aurora is using 3500 kg or 3.5 tons of HALEU. I think this would change a bit depending on the spectrum.
3 tons HALEU / (1.5 MWe * 20 yr) * (1000 MW / 1 GW) = 100 ton HALUE / GWe-yr
- you don't see these detailed core schematics with analyses because in our design they are designated export controlled (ECI) as I mentioned. It doesn't mean that they aren't in there or that they haven't been extensively performed and documented.
- the endeavor (and cost) of downblending EBR-II fuel over many years has been based on the national and state nonproliferation agreements to downblend this high enriched used fuel from EBR-II. Don't confuse that endeavor with processing used, low-enriched fuel from existing plants. In the one case, the downblending work was being performed for many years in the interest of downblending before storing as waste (except now, instead, it can be used to produce clean power and demonstrate a FOAK fission plant). In the other case, recycling existing waste, we are already working with DOE (and starting NRC interactions) about deploying recycling existing nuclear waste for fuel. I can tell you it's incredibly cost effective for a fast reactor to utilize the TRU in existing low-enriched waste and that is our goal for not just feel-good reasons but also for economic reasons. It is not false nor disingenuous.
It's true that the burnup is far less than would be ultimately most economically efficient. The FOAK was intended to serve as a bit of an MVP as I already mentioned. But it's key that larger doesn't mean less safety. The fundamentals of the safety in this case lie in how the fuel has inherent shutdown characteristics, which were proven true of EBR-II (at 65 MWth) even as it's true of Aurora (<10MWth). Many different plants have different mechanisms of safety at various size ranges!
Thanks for engaging and your thoughtful responses.
On this case, the lithium absorbs the neutrons and convert most of the energy into heat, while it becomes tritium.
Cynicism is extremely easy. Every company looks dodgy from the outside and most of them are dodgy. Many such posts turn out to be correct. But that is because cynicism is misplaced - the point of these startups is that some of them will, despite looking dodgy, turn out to be keystones for trillions of dollars of industrial success.
The upside of a serious energy revolution completely outweighs any of these points raised. There needs to be a way for dodgy-looking startups to experiment without just getting a "nah, this year's work is a write off. Oh well lol" from regulators.
Startups are about industrialising existing working processes. What we are missing here is the multiple different funded experiments that take the different combinations of salts, heat exchangers and so on and come up with "hey this one works best" - make these.
Funding these experiments through VC is just asking for bias and PR not empirical results.
In short, if the government was running 100+ experimental reactors, this press release would be "whoops, 99 to go" and not even create a stir. It's only because there is 100M at stake is anyone fighting back.
Don’t claim they are lying to Congress about being able to reuse waste. You are the one who is blatantly lying about this to the point I wonder who’s paying you? It does not require “pristine haleu”- the very first reactor is using waste from Idaho National Labs. The DOE and Oklo are also working together on a waste-to-fuel factory as a second project. The fact you’d make up this information is reason enough to question both your motives and the entirety of your post.
Transatomic is nonexistent and Oklo chose not to work with them for a reason. They are quite different.
You also clearly don’t know anything about the NRC and their dealings with this company; they are working with Oklo currently on approval process.
Again, you seem uninformed on this company and their tech; the entire thing is small and on shutdown creates only as much heat as a riding lawnmower. So yes- there can be a country club or a daycare or whatever else you want to put on top. That’s part of why it’s so safe and needs to be approved.
I question that you’re actually for nuclear power at all; if you are, stop making up lies about a revolutionary company working to solve our energy crisis.
Ah the good old I disagree or you are wrong therefore you must be a shill accusation. That one is so boring it is actually part of the guidelines so if you're wondering why your comment is dead, that's it.
Take a look here for guidelines on how to comment on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html
I am trying to help you understand how to do that effectively yourself given that you appear to be new to the site (given your account age) and unfamiliar how to effectively communicate in this community.
People are frequently factually wrong. You will be more effective at correcting those factual errors if your tone remains civil, focused on facts and especially if you provide good citations to back up your corrections.
Additionally, calling out people as shills is specifically discouraged here as it does not lead to productive discussions. If you are concerned that someone is a shill, you should send an email to the HN moderators as they do investigate.
This is also explained the the guidelines (which really are worth reading.):
> Please don't post insinuations about astroturfing, shilling, bots, brigading, foreign agents and the like. It degrades discussion and is usually mistaken. If you're worried about abuse, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll look at the data.
We applied for a direct to phase 2 SBIR in 2020 and were thoroughly denied, mostly due to fixable errors in our application that we made because we put it together ourselves and had never applied for a grant before. After involving some consultants and the relevant institutions, we got a much lower impact score and are likely to receive the grant soon.
Moral of the story: you can't fake regulatory experience, and regulatory applications require specialist knowledge to put together correctly.
I wish them all the best in their resubmission!
While that seems true, but reading previous applications doesn't help?
> and regulatory applications require specialist knowledge to put together correctly.
Again, seems trivially true, but (again) how come you can't copy-paste a previously accepted application? (I mean, if you find a very similar site, same risks, hazards, geology, weather patters, distance from population centers, blablabla, same technology, same trade offs... shouldn't it be okay? [assuming the regulations haven't changed])
It's not that the NRC is unfair but it is like private spaceflight. For years there was talk at best. Designs like
have been up in the air for decades but nobody was serious about getting approval and building them. Oklo ought to be proud to be the first to get shot down, pick themselves up again, and submit a better proposal.
For reference, our SBIR submission was over 200 pages, much of it containing _incredibly_ specific technical documentation about our system, clinical protocols, statistical analysis plans, etc.
Point being, it's not as simple as copy pasting a known good application.
So 200 pages of technical details seems like a pretty good thing to go over, understand and then base a new application on.
The regulations have a laundry list of things that need to be included in the application, right? Looking at bad and good applications helps form a mental model of how one has to actually present the answers to those items on the list.
Of course it's not literal copypaste but which part is black magic from a system integrator point of view?
Of course hiring someone who wrote a few successful ones helps, but they are also basing their new work on their previous one, no? (Again not letter by letter obviously. And in some cases some sections require more depth, more detailed answers, in some cases they are not applicable, but good applications are similar to each other, because they are complete, they cover all the required risk assessments, etc... if not, what going on, could someone help me understand this?)
* Sodium Reactor Experiment (Leak, minor sodium explosion, decommissioned)
* Monju Nuclear Power Plant (Sodium fire, never worked properly, decommissioned)
There's even been a sodium fire at a solar plant, one of those big focused mirror systems.
Many of these new reactor designs are based on complex arguments that the worst-case accident doesn't require a huge, expensive secondary containment vessel capable of containing a major accident. That's a tough sell, since Chernobyl didn't have a containment vessel and Fukushima's reactors had ones that were too small. On the other hand, Three Mile Island had a big, strong containment vessel, and in that meltdown, it held, containing the problem. In all three accidents, the actual accident was worse than the design maximum credible accident.
The NRC is right to be skeptical of weak containment designs.
It's frustrating. The reactor designs that have worked reliably for long periods are very simple inside the radioactive portion of the system.
Sodium reactors had leaks and fires. Pebble bed reactors had pebble jams. Helium gas-cooled reactors had leak problems. Molten salt reactors include a radioactive chemical plant. So nuclear power is stuck with water as a working fluid.
Monju had many things wrong with the design, it was a loop-type reactor that nobody is talking about building anymore. Also it was nowhere near adequate from a seismic perspective it is kinda shocking they were allowed to build it at all.
Water reactors have no future for the same reason nobody has built a coal plant since 1980. The steam turbine and associated heat exchangers are unacceptably large and capital intensive compared to modern fossil fuel power plants based on gas turbines. (Look at how huge the steam generators are for the PWR)
Even if the construction problems were solved for the LWR, the economics will not work, you are better off capturing the carbon from a fossil fuel gas turbine plant and pumping it underground.
For nuclear power to be competitive we have to develop closed cycle gas turbine powersets. The 1970s model was that a fast reactor would be more capital intensive than an LWR but with the CCGT advanced reactors could be possibly be competitive -- if we can develop the powerset and reactors that run at high enough temperatures (not water) to support the powerset.
Hmm, seems China, India and Indonesia are still building them at a rate of one per week or so, unfortunately. Heck, even Germany opened a new coal plant last year.
In addition to be bad news for fast reactors, this also means France does not see nuclear being a major factor in avoiding global warming (a nuclear powered world using burner reactors would run out of uranium very quickly, or would need to tap vast new sources at dubiously low cost.)
(Ok, the Russians are serious too about using MOX in fast reactors but they've developed an alternative to the high energy ball mill.)
The supply of uranium is vast if you consider seawater as a resource. If burner reactors can be made economical in terms of capital cost we could possible make seawater uranium work. With a breeder cycle seawater uranium would certainly be affordable, we'd wind up spending a lot more on the rest of the fuel cycle.
Seawater uranium extraction would have to be scaled up by a factor approaching a trillion if nuclear w. LWRs is going to fuel the world (to in excess of 1 million tonnes of natural uranium per year), and it would only last a few thousand years.
Anyway, I don't believe France (or anyone else) has any major program to bring seawater uranium extraction to market either.
Steam explosions :|
Isn't a sodium fire suppressible by throwing powder/foam on it?
Isn't a containment building that can dump powder on a fire much cheaper than one that is able to withstand explosions?
Also there are non-flammable salts (eg. FLiBe)?
So.... what happens with solid fuel rod processing that is any different?
Well, I guess they just bury it rather than trying to consume all the fuel?
Do we really want nuclear anything in remote areas without human guards? What if someone decides they might like to cause an unnatural disaster?
Everyone says nuclear is safe... but where's the proof it would still be safe without the level of hand wringing we currently have?
If someone wants to do nuclear, they have to prove it's safe. Move fast and break things has no place here.
I can say we have to analyze to massive vehicle bombs, armed assault, etc.
Here's what the possibly interesting, counterintuitive analysis showed. If you have a plant where a massive bomb can't cause damage to exceed regulatory standards (...we are talking about a truly miniscule amount of material here in this micro fission powerhouse in comparison with the nuclear plants you are probably thinking of... literally not more than a meter tall and wide, underground, below layers and tonnage of concrete and steel) and if an armed assault can't cause damage like that either, are you doing a favor by having a host of armed people on site? Probably not, in fact. Insider risk is then too large. There you go!
(totally agree with no "move fast and break things" here. I'm about 8 years into working on this company and still see many years ahead. we wouldn't be doing anything great if we weren't bringing forward the safest emission-free power plant to reality)
We have this kind of cost-benefit assessment in other regulations. It is always a trade off between the benefit of having them vs the cost of not allowing it, be it a new food safety restrictions or building codes. A replacement for diesel generators might be worth a slightly higher risk given how much damage those fossil fuel generators do to the environment, and the global commitment to prevent climate change.
You make it sound as if the only two options we had were to build these reactors or to burn fossil fuels. These are not the only two options that you have.
What are your personal favorites of what those good answers are? One write up I found  doesn't go into much engineering details, and I find similar high-level descriptions elsewhere.
This reminds me of a documentary I once saw about what seemed to me a completely balls-to-the-wall experimental lab (the best kind) studying the earth's magnetic field by rotating a 12+ ton ball of molten sodium.
The way they solved the fire question was by suspending dewars of liquid nitrogen above the ball of death metal. The only way I could think of to improve upon that is a passive trigger design, wrapping the ball with walls of dewars with spring-loaded lids that open up when pressure drops below the level that the liquid nitrogen is normally contained at. If one is breached, they all breach at the same time enveloping the entire sodium footprint.
Sometimes you spill a few liters of sodium and it goes poof and makes some caustic aerosol you have to clean up. If the heat exchanger with a carbon dioxide secondary pops it forms a crust that will probably keep the carbon dioxide inside. Even if a water tertiary heat exchanger develops a pinhole leak the reaction happens on a 2-d surface and develops more slowly than you might think it would.
Russians documented hundreds of fires at a reactor in the 1970s most of which were little poofs, they kept calm and carried on because the prize is clean energy to power civilization for 1000s of years.
(2) Fires happen all the time in industrial facilities. You detect them and put them out. US and Russian literature tells you how it is done. EBR-II, FFTF and BN-800 point the way. Japan shows you how not to do it. (Not detect the fire for a long time, lie to the media about how bad the damage was)
When we're talking about sodium fires in a nuclear facility, though, this comment reads to me like possibly a wry joke? I'm not even 100% sure it wasn't one, so apologies if I am responding inappropriately. It rather reminds me of an emergency physician I know who likes to comment that gunshot wounds are easy to treat; it's mostly a matter of plugging the hole. He enjoys seeing how saying it makes people squirm.
Sodium fires are a real problem but they are manageable. If you detect the fires and put them out they are a minor problem. If you let the fires get out of control, let them wreck the equipment room next to the reactor, then try to cover up how bad the damage was to the media that is the Japanese experience with Monju.
People don't realize that Japan led the world in nuclear accidents from 1990 until Fukushima. There is something badly wrong with their safety culture that led to problems at Tokaimura and Monju and their choice to not install a proper backup electrical system at Fukushima. Choosing not to spend $1M to fortify their diesel generators that would have saved billions and billions. Remember it is a choice.
USA and Russia have dealt with the problem realistically and run beautiful and clean machines with sodium coolant. This is one of the nicest industrial facilities I have ever seen:
I would not be surprised at all if their hierarchical culture and fear of speaking up to superiors played into a lot of these accidents.
Well, not molten sodium. You don't put it out. You isolate the fire and let it run.
Even if it only gets opened at the factory then you have to worry about the factory.
Fast reactors need a large load of fuel (often high enrichment) to attain a critical mass. High power density helps pay for the fuel. It also means the reactor is smaller and the capital cost goes down compared to, say, a lead cooled reactor.
If you get fuel damage the most biologically dangerous fission product is iodine. The iodine reacts with the coolant to form NI salt, that salt dissolves in the sodium. Dangerous iodine isotopes decay in a few weeks. An experimental reactor melted down in the suburbs of LA in the 1950s and they never saw the iodine because it stayed put and it decayed in place.
Sodium reactors can run at high temperatures compared to water reactors. In the 1970s it was assumed that sodium reactors were attached to steam turbines and it was assumed fast reactors would cost more than thermal reactors, even though the performance of the steam turbine improves at high temperature.
Modern thinking is that a closed-cycle gas turbine is 10% the size of a steam turbine and the same for the heat exchangers so a high temperature reactor could beat the LWR for capital cost and be competitive with other power sources. A sodium reactor is a good match for a CCGT.
Shippingport was able to breed on the Thorium-U233 cycle.
Plutonium breeding could also be accomplished with a water reactor, possibly with two separate reactors in the fuel cycle to tune up the use of odd and even numbered isotopes. See
The trouble with it is that water has limited ability to remove heat so you are going to have a large amount of fuel tied up creating a critical mass producing relatively little water. That makes it hard to build up the fuel inventory for a fleet of breeders and economics are even worse than today's water reactors.
It also took two years for the NRC to provide this rejection.
Please don't excuse incompetence on an issue this important to the future.
I've done some first mover approval work in biology, and yes it's more work, but all first movement is more work in every way because you're pioneering something new. The FDA, at least, is not unreasonable and is usually very open about the bar they think they need to set. You just need to talk to them, request a meeting, and show up. And also realize that it's going to be an iterative process, as any new product design process is also iterative.
Instead, regulators may have opportunities to improve the process to make it easier for applicants to understand what they must do to receive approval. In this case, I have the impression the NRC did adequately explain what Oklo needs to improve in its application.
>Excessive concern about low levels of radiation led to a regulatory standard known as ALARA: As Low As Reasonably Achievable. What defines “reasonable”? It is an ever-tightening standard. As long as the costs of nuclear plant construction and operation are in the ballpark of other modes of power, then they are reasonable.
>This might seem like a sensible approach, until you realize that it eliminates, by definition, any chance for nuclear power to be cheaper than its competition. Nuclear can‘t even innovate its way out of this predicament: under ALARA, any technology, any operational improvement, anything that reduces costs, simply gives the regulator more room and more excuse to push for more stringent safety requirements, until the cost once again rises to make nuclear just a bit more expensive than everything else. Actually, it‘s worse than that: it essentially says that if nuclear becomes cheap, then the regulators have not done their job.
The well-established LWR has had continuous improvement both in terms of reliable performance, high uptime, and reduced occupational exposure for nuke workers.
The cost problem is not over-regulation but: (1) the LWR depends on an oversized steam turbine and heat exchangers that an order of magnitude more expensive than the gas turbines used to produce energy from fossil fuels today; they quit building coal plants in 1980 for the same reason they quit building nuclear plants, the cost of the steam turbine. Even if the heat was free the steam turbine would struggle. (2) Building an LWR is a bungle-bung bridge right out of Dr. Seuss, it's hard to find a complete reckoning but it seems anything that can go wrong will go wrong, everything from All-American Cost Disease to the factory in China that struggles to build the pump that was supposed to be cheaper to manufacture.
Even if LWR construction went 100% to plan, (1) would still make the LWR unattractive. You might be able to add pre or post combustion carbon capture to the gas turbine, compress the CO2 to 1500 psi and inject it into a saline aquifer for less.
If you want "the power to save the world" you gotta quit it with the "conservative" claptrap and take the radical step of coupling a higher temperature reactor to a closed-cycled gas turbine powerset. In the 1970s it was thought that a fast reactor had to be more expensive than an LWR but in the 2020 it is not worth moving forward unless you can do better.
This right here is the problem.
It is actually possible to over-regulate something, no matter what it is. The more people believe something needs to be regulated, the more likely it is to be regulated disproportionate to the need. Consider the safety record of commercial nuclear power in the US.
So some coal company gets a regulation inserted that says that in order to open a new nuclear reactor, you must first push a boulder up a hill for a thousand years.
Later someone does a cost benefit analysis on that regulation, it turns out to be costing a lot while actually making safety worse, so they propose to repeal it.
Headline: Get your Pitchforks, People, They Want To Deregulate Nuclear Power
Surely there is some other nation state that is less risk averse and open to nurturing innovation.
In this case, that meant assuming that everything above ground was completely gone. The building, the secondary side (power conversion equipment etc), and all human intervention, were all assumed gone. On top of that, Oklo analyzed the simultaneous loss of one of 3 independent shutdown systems. This is obviously a much higher bar than any existing nuclear plant, and for good reason: our mission is to build a new kind of plant with these inherent safety characteristics.
There might be a reason why there wasn't a lot of detail on sodium fires - there is no pool of sodium. The heat pipes use potassium. :) Oklo did tests on what happens in air, if sodium heat pipes were fully breached with huge holes and interacted directly with air. I was there. We just straight up had incredible amounts of energy hitting the heat pipe from myriad solar mirrors. It was pretty fun to test advanced fission with solar thermal. Anyway, there was a little bit of smoke, and actually the heat pipes kept functioning far longer than even the heat pipe expert expected, because the reacted sodium kept self-cauterizing the hole. In this reactor's case, the heat pipes would be in an inert environment, but it was interesting to see what would happen if somehow it were just pulverized in an open outdoor field.
There are roughly 40 external events that had to be analyzed: earthquakes, wind, tornadoes, seiche, avalanches, landslides, wildfires, you get the idea. What happens in our methods was that the worst possible event was analyzed. We took seismic accelerations worse than ever recorded in the history of the entire united states. It turns out, with a thorough risk analysis (based on risk analysis standards set up in the history of EBR-II and PRISM and others), that assuming you lose literally everything above ground is about the most conservative thing that is within the realm of happening once every million years. Keep in mind we were just seeking a 20 year license for a plant smaller than the MIT research reactor, but low-enriched.
But the end result is as you say, we have learned, they've learned, and we resubmit. We believe deeply that if fission is going to make a difference a commercial plant has to be built before the end of the decade! Happy to answer any questions.
We have to balance that against the millions of annual fossil fuel deaths (tens of thousands die each year just in the US and just due to coal pollution https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-other-reason-...) and the cliff toward which climate science tells us we're careening.
Reactors were licensed in the 1970s based on an entirely wrong model which saw the dominant failure mode being the pressure vessel bursting. Laymen have a totally wrong point of view about that, they think a pressure cooker really has the metal burst and go off like a bomb, really the seal breaks and you get sprayed with superheated steam which is dangerous enough. Pressure vessels burst because the chemicals eat them from the inside out but for every pressure vessel that bursts thousands of storage tanks get sucked in.
After TMI the model was updated to recognize "station blackout" as the #1 risk.
It was also basically the worst case scenario that could happen to that reactor design.
The tsunami and the earthquake killed 20000 for a scale.
(I support nuclear power, for whatever that's worth. I think it's a good idea and we should do a lot more of it.)
An academic reactor or reactor plant almost always has the following basic
characteristics: (1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap. (4) it is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose. (7) Very little development will be required. It will use off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now.
On the other hand a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following
characteristics: (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It requires an
immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. (4) It is very expensive. (5)
It takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems. (6) It is
large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated.
The tools of the academic designer are a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser. If a
mistake is made, it can always be erased and changed. If the practical-reactor designer
errs, he wears the mistake around his neck; it cannot be erased. Everyone sees it. The
academic-reactor designer is a dilettante.
"Little that’s happened in the 60 years since suggests Rickover was wrong." -- Kennedy Maize, 12/30/2014, Power Magazine contributing editor.
All Oklo application documents linked to from this top level page: https://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/aurora-oklo.ht...
While searching World Nuclear News for background about Oklo I ran into this story:
"Oklo to power bitcoin mining machines"
This is dubious on a couple of levels. Micro-reactors like Oklo (1.5 megawatt electrical output per unit, compared to 1000+ megawatts for Generation III reactors currently being built) would be hard pressed to produce electricity suitable for an industry that seeks globally-cheapest prices. Announcing a "20-year commercial partnership" to supply 100 units to a mining firm, before they've built a single unit, is optimistic to the point of recklessness.
The Oklo founders , Caroline Cochran and Jacob DeWitte, have no industrial experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles. They met at MIT while TA'ing and went straight from graduate school to founding Oklo.
I just don't think that Oklo knows what they are doing.
But calling them out for having no nuclear industry experience seems somewhere between aggressive and wrong. Both founders have graduate degrees in nuclear science from MIT and have been in the nuclear industry _at Oklo_ for the better part of a decade. A quick LinkedIn search also shows that Oklo employs other people with nuclear industry experience, including at the NRC itself.
If someone had a PhD from MIT in machine learning and then worked at Google doing machine learning for 8 years, would you say that person has no machine learning industry experience? At face value such a person would seem like a plausible expert!
Other companies that manufacture nuclear components in the US include Areva, General Electric, and Framatome. But Westinghouse is the only company that has a new reactor design currently under construction in the US.
Plus, it's really not clear how they could translate their organizational skills to entirely different culture. Maybe it would work, but it's certainly not a sure thing.
The planet doesn't need nuclear. It just needs a concerted push to roll out renewables on a bigger scale and invest into promising long/medium term energy storage solutions (like various gravity storage solutions)
The opportunity costs for nuclear are just way too high.
Since when is gravity storage a promising solution for powering the national grid?
Academic experience does not equal Industry experience.
You could put the bitcoin mine right next to the facility and do something useful with the electricity. It really should be coupled to some real sink so they can see the dynamics of the reactor + powerset + consumer.
You don't have to personally believe that bitcoin mining is "useful" to acknowledge that it certainly can generate real money to offset the cost of a remote experiment like this one.
I think a year ago we were comfortable with Bitcoin as a store of value but the NFT craze has made almost all of us adopt the "right-clicker mentality".
Years ago I was an INTP but something happened to me a year ago and I got into doing art projects and I lately scored as an INFP. I told my therapist the other day that, more than anything else, I want to plant my feelings like seeds, intensify and cultivate them, compress them into a ball, throw it at somebody and have it hit them like a lighting bolt.
NFT people drive me nuts because (1) I'm not that good at art, (2) I want to get much better, (3) I know I'm going to do that by really emotionally connecting with people and (4) I can't know I'm really doing it with people who are blinded with NFT greed. (Look at the sh1t they buy!)
Ironically, bitcoin is one of the few things that gives me hope for a future potentially devastated by threats like climate change.
all that aside the most surefire way to get better at art is to enjoy it and keep doing things you enjoy, in perpetuity,
It is an old story. I was doing some reading to try to get into the head of somebody who'd been involved with the art world and came across
which was a cynical take from 1975.
So Theranous all over again?
Wait, what? I knew that reactor construction stopped around then. I hear it alluded to often enough, e.g. "US grid could have been 100% low-CO2 power by now if we had just kept up the pace of deploying nuclear instead of stopping in the 80s." Still, I thought the story was a messy mix of regulations hitting at the same time as city growth was topping off and interest rates were skyrocketing.
If the NRC just says "no" to everything, that's a big deal. Is there more to the story?
On August 26, 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an Early Site Permit and a Limited Work Authorization. Limited construction at the new reactor sites began, with Unit 3 then expected to be operational in 2016, followed by Unit 4 in 2017, pending final issuance of the Combined Construction and Operating License by the NRC. These dates have since slipped to 2022 and 2023 for Units 3 and 4, respectively.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no way for our society to overcome the apparent moral high ground that nuclear skpetics hold. Nuclear disastors are too good at capturing the imagination and all a skeptic has to say is "you can never be too safe."
Meanwhile, we claim that our reliance on fossil fuels is a disastor, but if it's not enough of a disastor to compel us to make nuclear regulatorily viable, how much of a disaster can it really be?
Yeah, that syncs up better with my intuition: disasters plus bad economic timing killed the industry in the 80s and it hasn't gotten back on its feet because big projects are hard enough with momentum and the industry has to start over from zero.
Here's hoping they can get back on their feet!
In 2017, Westinghouse declares Chapter 11 bankruptcy from construction losses, and the final owner Southern Company reselects Bechtel as the construction manager.
Current operational date looks like 3Q 2022, and on track.
tl;dr - Don't allow megaproject management experience to atrophy. The US military learned this (see: how the Navy builds carriers and nuclear subs). Have a prime and a secondary. Rotate. And, for god's sake keep the pipeline full. Skills atrophy and knowledge is forgotten.
In so far as a water reactor could be practical (awful economics of the steam turbine and steam generators) the AP1000 looks pretty good.
Compare that to Flamanville, Olkiluoto, and the US AP1000 builds where every time there was a work stoppage to review a detailed design element, a massive and expensive workforce just had some paid chill time.
"How Georgia nuclear project’s big finish went so wrong"
There were even worse problems in South Carolina that actually led to federal criminal convictions:
"Former Westinghouse Executive Charged with Conspiracy, Fraud in Connection with V.C. Summer Nuclear Project"
Former Westinghouse Electric Co. Senior Vice President Jeffrey A. Benjamin was charged with 16 felony counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and causing a publicly traded company to keep a false record, for his part in failing to truthfully report information regarding construction of new nuclear units at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina.
Benjamin is the fourth individual to be charged in the ongoing federal investigation. Former SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh, former SCANA Executive Vice President Stephen Byrne, and former Westinghouse Vice President Carl Churchman have all pleaded guilty to federal felony charges for their roles in the matter.
Here's a big investigative series that the Charleston Post and Courier did about the problems with the VC Summer expansion in South Carolina:
Apparently they approved NuScale's Small Modular Reactors:
NuScale spent over $500 million and more than 2 million labor hours to compile the information needed for its design certification application.
The NRC doesn't say "no" to everything; AP-600/1000 designs were approved, an SMR design has been approved. The NRC is entirely willing to approve competent design efforts.
The most candid explanation of the attitude of the NRC was offered by former chairman Dale Klien and his "no bozos" baloney test; there is no room in nuclear power for hucksters and the NRC won't indulge them. This rejection is evidence that this mentality still prevails; failure to respond to NRC questions about reactor design in a timely manner is bozoery and this is the correct outcome.
The Oklo proposal isn't some generational variant on PWRs. They are proposing a fast breeder. You can't go to the NRC with a fast breeder application on anything less than a multi-billion dollar R&D operation designed to positively thrill the NRC with actually epic levels of competence and preparation and expect to be approved, and that is exactly how it should be.
All this made large, new, expensive nuclear plants difficult to justify. TMI was just the icing on the cake.
The more recent "nuclear renaissance" died because natural gas become very cheap (and a combined cycle NG power plant costs $1/W to build; a factor of 10 cheaper than a nuclear plant) and because nuclear construction was more expensive than promised (bye, Westinghouse).
“The cost of new nuclear is prohibitive for us to be investing in,” says Crane. Exelon considered building two new reactors in Texas in 2005, he says, when gas prices were $8/MMBtu and were projected to rise to $13/MMBtu. At that price, the project would have been viable with a CO2 tax of $25 per ton. “We’re sitting here trading 2019 gas at $2.90 per MMBtu,” he says; for new nuclear power to be competitive at that price, a CO2 tax “would be $300–$400.” Exelon currently is placing its bets instead on advances in energy storage and carbon sequestration technologies.
- plant: plants that had reactors first approved earlier have since had reactors approved that will commence operation soon (Vogtle is the classic)
- commenced operation: designs exist that have been approved but haven't commenced operation
One could argue that the NRC only approves commercially unviable designs or something like that, I suppose. Or that we have just as many plants as we need and we just need more reactors. Or that the general stance of the public has shifted away from nuke.
Four AP1000s are operating in China right now, demonstrating that under different regulatory regimes, the plants can be built.
If you think that the regulatory regime plays a role, then there are three obvious questions to ask:
(1) is our current regulatory regime Pareto optimal on a safety versus build time plot? I.e. are there changes that we could make which improve build time without negatively affecting safety?
(2) should we consider moves along the Pareto front? I.e. should we trade some safety for some construction speed? Or vice versa?
(3) are there things that we can learn from other regulatory approaches that would help us address question 1 or 2? Your proposed question fits under here, but it should be much broader than the way you posed it.
>We woke up a few days ago to incredibly surprising decisions by the NRC. Although Oklo responded to every request for information, and the last thing we heard from the NRC was that the information we submitted was helpful, the NRC has denied our first application on the basis of not having submitted information. The NRC has now gone from having one combined license under review to none.
Did they even run this article by a copy-editor? It's pretty poorly worded, like one of the founders stayed up until 3am to pen this post.
> The staff determined that neither topical report contained sufficient information to initiate detailed technical reviews. Each report contained conceptual information, rather than repeatable methodologies, and each left many issues unresolved and open for future potential applicants referencing the topical reports to address. The NRC staff
informed Oklo of the insufficiency of the topical reports by two emails dated August 5, 2021 (ADAMS Accession Nos. ML21201A079 and ML21201A111), that included attachments describing in detail the supplemental information Oklo must provide for the NRC staff to begin the detailed review of each topical report.
> By letters dated October 5, 2021 (ADAMS Accession No. ML21292A325), Oklo submitted revised topical reports for the MCA and PBLM methodologies. The NRC staff conducted a completeness review of the revised topical reports and determined that Oklo provided no new substantive information and failed to fully address the information gaps identified during the original completeness review and discussed during public meetings
There are also a few places on the NRC letter that hint at the NRC's frustration with Oklo:
> letter dated November 17, 2020 (ADAMS Accession No. ML20300A593), the NRC staff informed Oklo that Step 1 was completed for the area of applicability of regulations. The NRC staff’s Step 1 review focused on regulations Oklo identified as not applicable to its Aurora design and did not evaluate the
acceptability of requested exemptions. By letter dated December 21, 2020 (ADAMS Accession No. ML20357A002) Oklo informed the NRC staff that they intend to pursue further engagement on the
topic of applicability of regulation
> On December 2, 2020, during a routine scheduling call, Oklo requested that the NRC staff temporarily pause its review and stop developing additional RAIs for the Aurora custom combined license application;
> The NRC’s docketing decision for the Aurora custom combined license application was designed to obtain the necessary additional design information from Oklo and complete Step 1 activities within five (5) months. The NRC staff engaged extensively with Oklo to complete Step 1 through numerous meetings and by conducting audits, requesting additional information, and
clarifying its information needs. More than a year has passed since the application review commenced, during half of which the technical review was paused at the applicant’s request.
Oklo’s proposal to develop generic methodologies to address the topics of MCA and classification of SSCs was not successful in closing Step 1 of the review, and foundational issues identified during the Aurora custom combined license application acceptance review remain unresolved. Accordingly, the NRC staff is unable to complete Step 1 of the two-step review, or establish a reliable and predictable schedule.
Given that, I sure hope that cooler heads at Oklo prevail and they don't follow through on:
> Oklo will respond to the NRC letter with a letter clarifying things that cannot be left the way they were characterized. So you will see that soon.
That really doesn't seem the way to resolve the issues Oklo is having with the NRC.
I do not want nuclear power approved quickly, or easily. I want it to be burdensome, difficult, and with a massive requirement for proving out safety in even the most unlikely of scenarios.
This area does not need Silicon Valley style disruption at the cost of endangering lives and destroying the earth.
People talk about climate change in apocalyptic terms until it actually matters in real world decisions for things other than the things they wanted to do anyway.
We are currently destroying the earth because we are stuck using technology from the 1800s to power our 21st century society. Yes we do need silicon valley style disruption.
Give them a pacific atoll, or an old oil drilling platform, and let them do whatever they want.
Problem is it will cost the rich and powerful a little opportunity cost and a bit of wealth.
The looming climate catastrophe has political and social solutions. Not technical ones.
Moreover, we're still pretty far from the point where this even becomes an issue. We can accelerate the deployment of renewables a lot before this is a real constraint on anything.
In the future (I predict) it will more and more be distributed both production and consumption.
The technology all exists. But it does not suit the concentration of power. It will take democracy (people taking action - perhaps direct action) to avert the catastrophe.
I am optimistic.
The claim from the NRC in that letter is:
“Oklo’s application continues to contain significant information gaps in its description of Aurora’s potential accidents as well as its classification of safety systems and components,” Veil said. “These gaps prevent further review activities. We are prepared to re-engage with Oklo if they
submit a revised application that provides the information we need for a thorough and timely review.”
(phew, that PDF does not copy/paste text cleanly, at least not in Safari. Had to re-type it.)
Asking for more information until the other party gives up is a tactic -- as is refusing to provide damning information. It's hard to say which game is being played, or even if any game is being played at all, without knowing details.
Oklo's application doesn't follow the Standard Review Plan format. That 4,500 page document of regulatory guidance fits the large light water reactor systems, structures, components, and processes it was designed for. But it is unwieldy and inappropriate for Oklo's reactor design. Reviewers are used to the SRP and the applications produced using its specified format; they are not yet comfortable with the way that the Oklo application provides required information.
The NRC's denial of Oklo's novel COL application is a disappointment, but it's not a complete surprise. Oklo is doing something that is difficult by pushing change in a federal regulatory agency whose processes and procedures have been developed over decades to focus on a particular kind of reactor.
Oklo's 1.5 MWe reactor uses liquid metal filled heat pipes to passively move heat energy out of a few dozen assemblies containing metallic alloy fuel rods.
That is a completely different machine than a 1,000 MWe reactor that pumps high pressure water through a core made up of hundreds of assemblies consisting of a bundle of hundreds of thin walled tubes filled with UO2 pellets.
Oklo and the NRC review team have worked diligently to come to an agreement that the COL contained information required for a complete safety review. Oklo has answered every request for information it has received, but the NRC has judged those responses to be not yet complete.
The NRC had the option of obtaining information it thought was missing through another, more focused round of RAIs and response. Under the pressure of a Congressionally mandated deadline of 3 years for reviewing a docketed application, it chose to deny the application "without prejudice."
This gives the NRC the opportunity, outside of a formal license review process, to communicate what they believe is missing from the application. It gives Oklo the opportunity to produce a better application that fills those information gaps.
Oklo co-founder and COO Caroline Cochran pointed out the stunning fact that no nuclear plant that has submitted an application since the formation of the NRC in 1975 has yet commenced operation.
Assuming accuracy, that's a damning statistic. I don't believe for a minute that every single application that's crossed their desk for nearly half a century was so flawed or unsafe that it was unworkable.
Knowing what I know of governments and bureaucrats, I'd speculate that they're being asked for a bunch of irrelevant or impossible (i.e. doesn't apply to their design) information, and the people in the bureau are being useless and obstructive about it since there's no downsisde for false negatives.
The NRC may be the culprit there also, but that is a completely different question.
It's easy to blame regulators, but a big factor is simply cost. For the last 20-30 years, low fossil fuel costs in the US have meant that the huge investment needed to get a nuclear plant from application to operations didn't make sense. Westinghouse Electric went bankrupt in 2017 because of it. Add in that nuclear has been very out of favor with the public, it makes it really hard to get a reactor built.