Oklo Aurora

Oklo Inc. is hoping to build a create a commercial microreactor using INL nuclear waste material as fuel.

On Monday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted Oklo Inc.’s application for review for its proposed nuclear reactor on Idaho National Laboratory property. The California-based company is now one step closer to moving forward with its plans to develop the first commercial reactor to generate power while reducing nuclear waste. The application was first submitted in March.

The next step will be to await the NRC’s review. The review will be a multistep process involving public meetings, audits and safety testing.

“Advanced reactors are an important tool for climate change, and we are proud to be the first to submit a full license application and the first to have it accepted,” said Jacob DeWitte, CEO of Oklo, told World Nuclear News. “We are setting a different paradigm by challenging the current system, while getting feedback, iterating, and ultimately getting approval on things that traditionally have not been done before.”

This microreactor, known as the Oklo Aurora, will run on recovered material from used nuclear fuel. That used fuel will be given to Oklo by the Idaho National Laboratory. Since the Department of Energy owns INL’s fuel, it will be a participant in the project as well.

“DOE is interested because the Administration and Congress support the development of nuclear energy, a source of clean, reliable electricity our nation needs,” said DOE spokesman Tim Jackson.

Currently, INL has no use for its nuclear waste material, according to Jess Gehin, chief scientist of Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate at Idaho National Laboratory.

This new type of fuel is called HALEU, an acronym for “high assay, low-enriched uranium.”

Currently, there are no commercial facilities in the U.S. capable of producing HALEU. INL will assist in producing this fuel from its now-decommissioned Experimental Breeder Reactor-II.

“This is important because this represents a new private-public partnership, where we’re using our resources to support them and their development of the reactor. … This will be one of the first reactors to be demonstrated in a long time,” Gehin said.

The 1.5-megawatt experimental plant, one of the smallest in history if successful, will be built on the INL site. The average large reactor is about 1,000 megawatts. INL granted Oklo a permit to begin building in December. That permit is the first given in the United States to a non-light-water nuclear reactor.

Oklo plans to build it in record time, with an anticipated opening of the microreactor plant between 2022 to 2025. If successful, it would be one of the fastest built nuclear plants ever.

Oklo hopes this technology will be especially useful to aiding remote locations in going nuclear. Remote locations face high power expenses due to the difficulty in shipping fuel to them.

With the Oklo Aurora, these places would be able to operate nearly autonomously for 10 or more years, according to Gehin.