Earth’s First Nuclear Reactor Is 1.7 Billion Years Old, And Was Made Naturally
“By examining the concentrations of xenon isotopes that become trapped in the mineral formations surrounding the uranium ore deposits, humanity, like an outstanding detective, has been able to calculate the specific timeline of the reactor. For approximately 30 minutes, the reactor would go critical, with fission proceeding until the water boils away. Over the next ~150 minutes, there would be a cooldown period, after which water would flood the mineral ore again and fusion would restart.
This three hour cycle would repeat itself for hundreds of thousands of years, until the ever-decreasing amount of U-235 reached a low-enough level, below that ~3% amount, that a chain reaction could no longer be sustained. At that point, all that both U-235 and U-238 could do is radioactively decay.”
When humanity first unlocked the secrets of nuclear power, by splitting the atom, it was generally thought that we were the first world to ever experience a sustained fission reaction. Where else, but on a world teeming with intelligent life, could the ingredients be put together so carefully to create a chain reaction that doesn’t peter out? Imagine our surprise, then, when we discovered a site where nuclear fission occurred, naturally, for hundreds of thousands of years, long before the evolution of even the simplest animals. Nuclear fission isn’t a human invention, but is one of the oldest natural forms of energy to come into existence on our world.
If you ever thought that nuclear power wasn’t natural, you’d better learn about Oklo, and how planets can naturally make their own nuclear reactors!
Why Science Demands We Keep The Iran Nuclear Deal
“But if we end the deal and reimpose sanctions, all the nuclear non-proliferation policy victories immediately dissolve. The current agreement gives us a decade of peace, 25 years of absolute accountability, and regular inspections that ensure the stockpiles of radioactive materials include nothing suitable for creating a nuclear weapon. The rest of the world’s scientific experts agree. If Trump has evidence that there’s something else afoot, he owes it to the American people and the world to present it. The prior two secretaries of energy were Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz: prominent atomic and nuclear physicists; today’s secretary of energy is Rick Perry, who has been silent on the Iran nuclear deal since the 2015 diatribe that some speculate got him this job in the first place. If the United States rejects and pulls out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we’ll see one of our greatest fears come true: ‘America First’ equates to ‘America Alone.’”
In 2015, the culmination of 13 years of intense negotiations between the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran all came to fruition with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Association, to non-enrichment and non-proliferation terms, and in in return had sanctions against them lifted. Nuclear power, as has been the case since Eisenhower, has been there for the energy benefit of all humanity, and this deal was what put that in place. Trump, meanwhile, has come out and called this one of the worst deals in American history. Is that true, though?
Let’s take a look at what the science actually says about nuclear weapons, enrichment, and the true dangers, and then compare it to the deal. I think you’ll come to the same conclusion as me: that this deal is not only worth keeping, it’s a stroke of genius.
Ask Ethan: How Can A Nation Have Nuclear Power Without The Danger Of Nuclear Weapons?
“Could you elaborate some of the scientific background on which Dr. Moniz must have briefed Kerry for those talks? Among issues that are sometimes mentioned with little or no explanation are uranium vs plutonium; materials and technology suitable for peacetime energy production vs those suitable only for weapons; breeder reactors; and illegal technology transfer.”
In 1953, then-President Eisenhower, in the aftermath of World War II and with rising tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union resulting in a nuclear arms race, began the “Atoms For Peace” plan. The idea was that all nations should be able to reap the benefits of nuclear power, while simultaneously keeping the world safe from nuclear war. While the same ingredients can be used for both reactors and weapons, uranium and plutonium, there’s are big differences reactor-grade and weapons-grade materials. The largest difference is the concentration of fissile material. When the United States helped broker a deal with Iran to give them nuclear power capabilities while keeping their possibility of creating nuclear weapons at a minimum, it was nuclear physics that sealed the deal. In particular, it was likely unprecedented negotiation on two issues that made it possible: the U-235 and Pu-239 concentrations that would arise from Iran’s nuclear program.
Come find out how physicists are instrumental to keeping the world safe from nuclear war. At a time where North Korea has nuclear bombs, learning how to do it right is never more important!