Two billion years ago parts of an African uranium deposit naturally underwent nuclear fission. The mystery of this Ancient Nuclear Reactor plant still remains unfolded.
In 1972, a worker at a Reactor fuel processing plant observed something strange in a routine analysis of uranium extracted from a mineral source from Africa.
As is the case with all natural uranium, the material under study contained three isotopes- three forms with various atomic masses: uranium 238, the most abundant variety; uranium 234, the rarest; and uranium 235, the isotope that can assist a nuclear chain reaction.
Experts at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) were baffled for weeks.
We can find uranium 235 atoms that comprise only 0.720 percent of the total in the earth’s crust, on the moon, and even in meteorites.
But in the samples that came from the Oklo deposit in Gabon, a former French colony in West Africa, the uranium 235 constituted only 0.717 percent.
The small difference was sufficient to warn French scientists that there was something suspicious with the minerals.
These minor facts led to a further inquiry which exhibits that a part of the mine was well below the standard amount of uranium 235.
Approximately 200 kilograms seemed to have been extracted in the past, today, such amount is sufficient to create half a dozen nuclear bombs.
Experts and scientists from all over the globe came together in Gabon to find what was going on with the Uranium from Oklo and what made it so different.
The site where the uranium originated is an advanced subterranean nuclear reactor that goes beyond the understanding of our current scientific knowledge.
It is believed by many that this ancient nuclear reactor is around 1.8 billion years old and operated for at least 500,000 years in the distant past.
Researchers conducted various investigations at the uranium mine, and the results were published at a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
As per the News agencies of Africa, researchers had discovered traces of fission products and fuel wastes at different locations within the mine.
Interestingly, Today’s nuclear reactors cannot be compared with this nuclear reactor in aspects of design and functionality.
As per reports, this ancient nuclear reactor was several kilometers long. Incredibly, for a large nuclear reactor like this, the thermal impact on the environment was limited to just 40 meters on the sides.
What researchers found even more surprising are the radioactive wastes that have still not moved outside the boundaries of the site, as they have still held in place thanks to the geology of the area.
Surprisingly, the nuclear reaction had happened in a way that the plutonium, the by-product, was formed, and the nuclear reaction itself had been moderated.
This is considered as “holy grail” of atomic science.
The ability to moderate the reaction means that once the reaction was commenced, it was possible to leverage the output power in a controlled manner, with the capacity to prevent disastrous explosions or the release of the energy at a single time.
Researchers have labeled the Nuclear Reactor at Oklo a Natural Nuclear Reactor, but the truth goes far beyond our comprehension.
A few researchers engaged in the testing of the Nuclear reactor concluded that the minerals had been enriched in the distant past, around 1.8 billion years ago to produce a chain reaction naturally.
They also discovered that water had been used to lessen the reaction in the same manner that modern nuclear reactors cool down using graphite-cadmium shafts preventing the reactor from going into a critical state and exploding.
Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, former head of the United States Atomic Energy Commission and Nobel Prize winner for his work in regard to the synthesis of heavy elements, mentioned that conditions must be correct for uranium to burn in a reaction.
For example, the water involved in the nuclear reaction must be crude.
Even a few particles per million of contaminants can poison the reaction, bringing it to a stop.
The problem is that no pure water exists naturally anywhere in the world.
Several experts discussed the great Nuclear Reactor at Oklo, stating that at no time in the geologically estimated history of the Oklo deposits was the uranium sufficiently abundant Uranium 235 for a natural nuclear reaction to happen.
When these deposits were originated in the past, due to the slowness of the radioactive decay of U-235, the fissionable material would have constituted only 3 percent of the total deposits something too low mathematically speaking for a nuclear reaction to occur.
However, a reaction took place mysteriously, indicating that the original uranium was far richer in Uranium 235 than that in a natural formation.