First Commercial-Scale Nuclear Fuel Recycling Facility Being Developed
Oklo, a California-based energy startup, has submitted its licensing project plan for a commercial-scale nuclear fuel recycling facility to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The fuel recycling facility will be the first of its kind and is meant to make use of nuclear waste, which still has up to 90% of its energy content that could be used to meet energy needs in the U.S.
The submitted licensing project plan outlines the company’s “pre-application engagement activities” ahead of licensing for the fuel recycling facility. The engagement activities are meant for Oklo to identify and reconcile regulatory requirements, “enabling efficient and effective NRC license application review through a process which is equivalent to a staged licensing approach with the benefits of flexibility and customization,” the company said in a press release.
The company’s fuel recycling facility would be capable of recycling used nuclear fuel from its own reactors as well as reactors from other companies. According to Oklo, the spent fuel is about 95% recyclable, and the energy available in nuclear waste could meet U.S. energy needs for over 150 years.
“The ability to economically recycle fuel is an important attribute for developing domestic fuel supplies, and offering recycling services also presents a sizeable opportunity,” said Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo. “We are taking a major step forward in bringing meaningful fuel recycling capabilities domestically that will produce cost-competitive fuel.”
Some of the specifics remain unknown, however. Oklo has not shared where the pilot facility will be located, nor how much fuel it could recycle and produce in the pilot. Oklo told POWER that the facility will produce fissionable uranium and transuranic element isotopes, which it will use to make fuel for its own fast reactors. Oklo also told POWER that it will use electrorefining-based technology for fuel recycling.
The U.S. Department of Energy has selected Oklo and its partners for cost-share projects that can commercialize technology to turn used fuel into usable fuel. In addition, Oklo recently signed a 20-year deal with Compass Mining, a cryptocurrency-mining firm, as reported by CNET.
While nuclear energy meets about one-fifth of electricity demand in the U.S., it can be expensive, and it raises safety concerns. Another major issue is a lack of long-term storage options for nuclear waste.
Some countries, including France, China, and Japan, already have policies in place to reprocess spent fuel. But reprocessing is controversial, with Greenpeace calling it “an environmental and financial disaster” and “a commercial and industrial failure.”
Oklo’s commercial-scale nuclear fuel recycling can help repurpose spent nuclear fuel, but safety concerns over nuclear power may remain.
Subscribe to get exclusive updates in our daily newsletter!