Is this microreactor the future of nuclear architecture?
Although nuclear power and weapons have influenced design since the Atomic Age , a new power plant designed by Oklo , developer of a 1.5MW compact passive fast reactor, is poised to start a new wave of nuclear architecture. The 50-foot-tall Aurora Microreactor Plant unites old and new aspects of nuclear power in several ways; Oklo made headlines recentlyAnnounced that Aurora, which is expected to begin operating in 2024, will be powered by low-enriched uranium from the Idaho National Laboratory. The use of HALEU (high enrichment and low enrichment uranium) is unique in that it takes advantage of already used nuclear fuel that has been discarded by large processing facilities, which often only use around 50% of the power potential of their core material Previously replacing it, Oklo, which launched in 2013 and debuted with the Aurora plant project in fall 2019, aims to recover 90-100% of the energy available within the fuel, using fast fission and fast reactors.
“We are using the same physical reactions, we are using fission, but almost everything we are trying to do is completely different from the industry, historically,” Caroline Cochran said in a telephone interview with Hyperallergic. The microreactor and Oklo plant do not require water or a lot of land, and the small-scale footprint improves the ability to meet the energy needs of communities in remote locations, such as small Alaskan cities, but perhaps not just their needs. of energy. The Aurora plant also represents an evolution in the aesthetics of nuclear design, with Oklo’s conscious effort to make its power station accessible and attractive to the surrounding community.
“We have been thinking a lot about how to meet their needs further, mainly to provide electricity, but how can we also be a meeting point?” Cochran said. “A town hall, a garden, an indoor pool, during the moments in Alaska when people don’t exercise much or don’t have access to fresh vegetables? That kind of things. How can the building itself be iconic and recognizable, but also take on the flavor of the available areas?
The company employed Gensler to focus on their vision of the structure, and decided on an A-frame structure that brings together various cultural references, practical considerations, and space efficiencies for Aurora. The team was inspired by structures including the Cadet Chapel of the United States Air Force Academy , and comments on the design have compared the smooth, domed triangular construction to a Star Wars building, a cathedral, a Swiss chalet. … and even some less elevated notions.
“One person thought they were being rude to us when comparing it to an IHOP,” said Cochran, “but I think it’s kind of interesting, the different opinions of what it reminds them of, and I’d say it’s a good thing.” . We were trying to think about the community aspects that we hope to develop together with them, and these will vary by site. ”
In addition to mid-century aesthetics referencing the original era of nuclear design, A-racks are the strongest lattice construction, and therefore ideal for housing and protecting the working aspects of the power plant, including the supporting cranes that move the jobs inside the plant, but the angle of the sides also lines up well with the solar array that will be attached to the energy processing. In high snow and low light latitudes like Alaska, the angle of the A-frame roof throws snow and maximizes exposure to sunlight. But Oklo also has more fancy ideas for the panels, hoping to employ Sistine Solar in implementing custom solar panel designs, including one commissioned by the artist. Forest Stearns for Aurora design, which creates a reflection of the Alaskan sky touched by Aurora Borealis.
Everything about Oklo, including the company name, which refers to the Oklo region of the Gabon state in Central Africa, where nuclear fission is a natural feature of the prehistoric landscape, indicates that it is a company that thinks very holistically. on the role of nuclear energy. it plays in human society, in nature and in the universe. These nuclear innovators look to a future where people stop for a cup of coffee at their local power plant (radiation dose not included) before using that energy potential for deep space exploration. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of an A-frame structure, but for now, Oklo projects a healthy glow of confidence and potential in the quick-fission design and deployment.