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By Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.

There are a number of sequential investments that must be made in order to deploy fuel sustainable FNRs:
1) TRU Concentration
2) Automated pyro processing
3) Automated fuel rod fabrication
4) Automated fuel bundle fabrication
5) Interim radio isotope storage
6) Prototype FNR detaled design
7) Prototype FNR construction
8) Prototype FNR operation and maintenace
9) Power FNR licensing
10) First-Of-A-Kind (FOAK) power FNR deployment

Currently no one is financing steps #1 to #6 which collectively amount to several billion dollars. The utilities are ducking the issue of fuel sustainability and are trying to minimize the costs of steps #7, #8, #9 and #10 by using thermal reactors and existing approved thermal reactor subassemblies. There have been announcements of plans to temporarily replace steps #1 and #2 by uranium enrichment, but most parties relied on Russia for enrichment capacity. As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that capacity can no longer be relied upon.

God willing we might be able to do Step #1 in Canada which then might allow INL to get the US government to finance Step #2. However, even if those two steps are successful, steps #3 to #10 will still require serious billions of long term investment capital, likely much more than OKLO can raise. Raising this capital may even be a challenge for the Terrapower and its Natrium Reactor which is financially backed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

That capital likely will not be available until politicians remove uncertainty from the advanced reactor licensing process. Better yet, advanced reactor licensing needs to become a simple insurance driven safety approval process comparable to licensing a marine oil rig.

The pulp and paper industry has mills that use large amounts of highly toxic H2S and chlorine. Other industries use large amounts of ammonia. The natural gas industry distributes large amounts of methane. These chemicals can and frequently do kill people.

The nuclear regulatory framework must recognize that when there is a large number of operating SMRs, sooner or later there will be a significant accident. The issue is that from a legal perspective a nuclear accident should be no more expensive or complex than a comparable chemical plant accident, air plane crash or building collapse. These are insurable risks that engineers typically use safety factors of three to avoid.

This web page last updated April 30, 2023

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