A Nuclear Reactor the Size of a Hot Tub Could Power Your Neighborhood One Day

Eric Sentell

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Nuclear Power PlantNicholas Hippert, Unsplash

Many scientists believe a sustainable future will require a combination of reduced energy consumption, increased renewable energy production, and nuclear energy.

The nuclear energy will supplement renewable energy production when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine.

Nuclear power plants, however, cost a pretty penny to build, operate, and maintain, and no one's overly thrilled about a new nuclear reactor going up in their backyard, so to speak.

Yet dozens of start-ups are working on making nuclear energy more feasible.

One such start-up, Oklo, was recently featured in Time Magazine. Oklo hopes to produce "microreactors" the size of hot-tubs that can power factories, small cities, or large neighborhoods.

The company plans to build and install these "microreactors" in remote, inaccessible areas that currently depend on trucked-in diesel fuel.

Even something as expensive as a small nuclear power plant would be more cost-effective than truckloads of diesel fuel powering massive generators in the Alaskan wilderness.

More importantly, the microreactors would be much more flexible and adaptable. Full-scale nuclear power plants occupy dozens of acres and power 20% of America's electricity needs.

Microreactors would be able to plug into large buildings like a factory or warehouse, or they could provide electricity for a section of a city or an entire smaller town.

On this scale, nuclear power could be deployed where and as needed. It could supplement solar or wind power, provide a back-up on windless, cloudy days, or help meet growing electricity needs.

The microreactor would also be safe, with little chance of a "meltdown." Living next to a nuclear reactor exposes people to less radiation than sunlight, and a microreactor would meet stringent safety specifications.

Indeed, regulatory hurdles remain. Oklo's application to build its first reactor was rejected by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nonetheless, Oklo is just one of many start-ups working on improving the feasibility of nuclear energy.

In the not-so-distant future, you might have a hot-tub sized microreactor powering your neighborhood.

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