Nuclear Reactor Physics - Oklo: A Natural Nuclear Reactor

Oklo: A Natural Nuclear Reactor

Modern deposits of uranium contain only up to ~0.7% 235U (and ~99.3% 238U), which is not enough to sustain a chain reaction moderated by ordinary water. But 235U has a much shorter half-life (700 million years) than 238U (4.5 billion years), so in the distant past the percentage of 235U was much higher. About two billion years ago, a water-saturated uranium deposit (in what is now the Oklo mine in Gabon, West Africa) underwent a naturally occurring chain reaction that was moderated by groundwater and, presumably, controlled by the negative void coefficient as the water boiled from the heat of the reaction. Uranium from the Oklo mine is about 50% depleted compared to other locations: it is only about 0.3% to 0.7% 235U; and the ore contains traces of stable daughters of long-decayed fission products.

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