The first nuclear reactor
Andrew Krystal and I were chatting a week or so ago about the first sustainable fission nuclear reactor that French official tripped over in Gabon, West Africa in 1973. It is some two billion years old and it certainly points to the fact that there is nothing under the purview of humanity that nature hasn’t done first. This time it was the creatures that produced our oxidizing atmosphere and then poisoned themselves out of existence, the anaerobes that turned this amazing trick.
Here is how it worked. The anaerobes lived in the shallows waters in an area that was pretty heavy in U238, a radioactive isotope of uranium. It appears that uranium was pretty tasty for the little beasties. It turns out that in the process of munching they enriched the U238 with U235, pretty much the same way we do it with our industrial processes to make fissionable enriched uranium for our reactors and bombs. After a few millions of years of munching the uranium was enriched enough U235 from the bodies and excrement of the anaerobes that a natural chain reaction was set up that heated the water, which was the moderator and kept it from becoming a meltdown or even worse an explosion. This kept going for about 200 million years and then as plate tectonics worked its magic and moved the reactor away from the water the reaction ceased.
Two billion years later, enter the French officials who were scratching their heads trying to understand how in blazes a nuclear fission reactor could not only exist in a place like West Africa, but some two billion years before the brilliant advent of the modern nuclear age.
The upshot of this is to say that nuclear power has been around as long as the Earth and if we want to we can look at how nature has handled it. From what I have been able to divine, nuclear power itself is not the evil we make it out to be. It turns out that it can be handled safely and the waste disposed of safely as well. The major problems with nuclear fission, from the most recent articles I have read, is not from waste, storage or power generation, but comes from the threat of terrorism and theft of enriched isotopes. Again a fringe group of psychopaths who for whatever reasons wish destruction on the rest of the world.
It really is worthwhile to re-examine nuclear power, to take it out of the business milieu and put it under a cradle to grave mandate. Our short term and medium storage solutions are adequate, and if we are diligent and willing to pay the costs, so are the long term storage solutions. The only fly in the ointment is the extreme fringes. They will do what they always have done, which is add to the chaos and destruction and confusion….
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