Are nuclear microreactors the future of off-grid power?

Off-Site Microreactors

A Silicon Valley-based startup called Oklo wants to build tiny nuclear reactors that can run off spent fuel from much bigger, conventional nuclear reactors, CNBC reports.

Experts are excited by the concept of microreactors because nuclear facilities have historically relied on economies of scale — a paradigm this tech could reverse.

"Microreactors promise to turn this paradigm on its head by approaching cost competitiveness through technological learning," Alex Gilbert from the nuclear power think tank Nuclear Innovation Alliance, told CNBC.

Reusing Nuclear Fuel

Oklo's "fast reactor" plant uses energy from already-spent nuclear reactor fuel, technology that has been around since the 1950s, according to CNBC.

The startup designed sleek A-frame buildings to house the reactors. The plants are designed to be operated autonomously.

Oklo envisions its customers including utility companies, industrial sites, and college campuses.

Oklo is planning to reuse spent reactor fuel from the Experimental Breeder Reactor II, a reactor operated by the Argonne National Laboratory at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho between 1964 and 1994.

"The reuse of materials has been long an option to better utilize natural resources, uranium in this case, as well as decreasing the amount of used fuel that must be ultimately disposed," Jess Gehin, associate laboratory director of the Nuclear Science and Technology Directorate at the Idaho National Laboratory, told CNBC.

"This is a common practice in some countries like France but not in the US, as economics do not favor this path," she added.

READ MORE: Oklo has a plan to make tiny nuclear reactors that run off nuclear waste [CNBC]

More on nuclear power: Scientists Fear New Disaster at Chernobyl Meltdown Site

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