Oklo seeks licence for fuel recycling facility

27 January 2023

US-based Oklo has submitted a Licensing Project Plan (LPP) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), outlining its plans for the future licensing of a first-of-a-kind fuel recycling facility. In early 2022, Oklo and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) signed an agreement to formalise their commitment to commercialising advanced fuel recycling technology.

Conducting activities in support of the LLP “provides early identification and reconciliation of regulatory requirements, enabling efficient and effective NRC licence application review,” says Oklo. The commercial-scale fuel recycling facility is intended to underpin the deployment of its 1.5MWe Aurora microreactor, currently in the design stage.

In September, Oklo submitted a revised LPP for the microreactor to NRC, which had denied a previous application in March 2020 “without prejudice”. NRC, cited Oklo’s “failure” to provide additional technical information related to the maximum credible accident and the safety classifications of the reactor’s systems, structures, and components. Oklo aims to build and operate an Aurora compact fast reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory site.

Oklo claims to have a unique position within the nuclear fuel cycle by being able to recycle used fuel from other reactors as well as its own reactors. "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 Oklo co-founder & CEO Jacob DeWitte.

Today’s reactors only consume about 5% of the energy content contained in their fuel. Nearly 95% of the energy content remains unused, and Oklo’s technology aims to unlock much of this remaining energy content. "We are taking a major step forward in bringing meaningful fuel recycling capabilities domestically that will produce cost-competitive fuel," DeWitte noted.

In November, Oklo, ANL, Deep Isolation, and Case Western Reserve University were awarded $6.1 million in funding by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to enable the recycling of used nuclear fuel from the current light water reactor fleet into advanced reactor fuel.

The project is funded by thevAdvanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) under its Converting Used Nuclear Fuel Radioisotopes into Energy (CURIE) programme. The CURIE programme was launched to fuel the commercialisation of advanced fission technology while reducing waste.

Over the past year, Oklo has been selected by DOE for four cost-share projects, totalling over $15 million to commercialise advanced reactor fuel from nuclear waste. Oklo’s CURIE project will focus on one of the critical steps for recycling waste from the current fleet, converting used oxide fuel into metal so it can be recycled using the process that Oklo is commercialising.

Oklo's Aurora design is a fast neutron reactor that uses heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a supercritical carbon dioxide power conversion system to generate electricity. It uses metallic high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, fuel to produce about 1.5 MWe and can also produce heat.

Image: Oklo's Aurora powerhouse (courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory)

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