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    Natural nuclear fission reactor

    Variousmag
    Friday, October 18, 2019 Last Updated 2019-10-18T13:21:31Z
    A fossil natural nuclear fission reactor is a uranium deposit where self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions have occurred.

    This can be examined by analysis of isotope ratios. The conditions under which a natural nuclear reactor could exist had been predicted in 1956 by Paul Kazuo Kuroda.

    The phenomenon was discovered in 1972 in Oklo, Gabon by French physicist Francis Perrin under conditions very similar to what was predicted.

    Oklo is the only known location for this in the world and consists of 16 sites at which self-sustaining nuclear fission reactions are thought to have taken place approximately 1.7 billion years ago, and ran for a few hundred thousand years, averaging probably less than 100 kW of thermal power during that time.

    In May 1972 at the Pierrelatte uranium enrichment facility in France, routine mass spectrometry comparing UF6 samples from the Oklo Mine, located in Gabon, showed a discrepancy in the amount of the 235 U isotope.

    Normally the concentration is 0.72% while these samples had only 0.60%, a significant difference. This discrepancy required explanation, as all civilian uranium handling facilities must meticulously account for all fissionable isotopes to ensure that none are diverted for weapons purposes. Thus the French Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (CEA) began an investigation.

    A series of measurements of the relative abundances of the two most significant isotopes of the uranium mined at Oklo showed anomalous results compared to those obtained for uranium from other mines. Further investigations into this uranium deposit discovered uranium ore with a 235 U concentration as low as 0.44%. Subsequent examination of other isotopes showed similar anomalies, such as neodymium and ruthenium as described in more detail below.

    This loss in 235 U is exactly what happens in a nuclear reactor. A possible explanation, therefore, was that the uranium ore had operated as a natural fission reactor.

    Other observations led to the same conclusion, and on September 25, 1972, the CEA announced their finding that self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions had occurred on Earth about 2 billion years ago. Later, other natural nuclear fission reactors were discovered in the region.
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