Scientists found an old nuclear reactor in an African mine. One of the scientists, Gillian Wright, said that “it’s definitely a radioactive place”.
The nuclear reactor was used two million years ago to help heat up the region. But it did not work as it should due to a lack of maintenance.
The new find of a nuclear reactor in an old mine has the potential and the need to be studied more. The find is not related to modern-day nuclear reactors, and it’s not clear if it was used for energy production or something else.
Scientists have found an old nuclear reactor in a two-million-year-old mine in Africa that they call “a time capsule from the Olduvai Gorge.” The technology might have been used for power generation, but scientists also say it’s possible this type of nuclear reactor could be used for medicine, space travel, and more.
The time capsule from the Olduvai Gorge is a potential discovery of both science and history because scientists may gain knowledge about how far human civilization has come since 2 million years ago.
The reactor produced energy by splitting uranium atoms into smaller atoms, called “fissionable plutonium”. This process is not unlike what happens when a nuclear power plant splits uranium fuel rods to produce heat and electricity.
This discovery shows that humans have been using nuclear energy for at least two million years. It also suggests that we are in fact still using this technology as it is shown that fissionable plutonium was found in this reactor. Although there are no signs of life, scientists would like to further explore this site for clues about human history and our use of nuclear energy for comfort and survival.
A French nuclear power plant engineer investigated the uranium sample in the Okla mine in Gabon. The examination identified the sample as a U235 isotope. This isotope is often found in nuclear reactors as it sustains the reaction. Now, the question is, is this a sign that there are Old Nuclear Reactors we do not know about?
Shortly after, physicists from around the world met in Gabon to study the mine. Other than studying the activities of the workers on the site, they also looked for signs of ancient technology. And they were successful. They found a natural-looking nuclear reactor under the surface of the mine.
After the investigation concluded, they announced a conference regarding this discovery. The team and the International Atomic Energy Agency announced the findings to the public. According to the experts, the reactor was used 2 million years ago and operated for about 500,000 years.
The scientists also discovered fission and nuclear waste residues near the mine. They noted that the fact that plutonium was created through a nuclear process 2 million years ago was amazing. Even more fascinating was that the isotope managed to self-regulate for so long.
The teams of scientists think that the mine was a natural nuclear reactor. And the water present around the mine acted as a catalyst to temper the nuclear reactor. The water became a substitute for the graphite and rhodium bars we use in modern nuclear reactors today.
This is not a massive accomplishment for us today. However, given the materials used to start and sustain the nuclear reaction in the mine, it would have been revolutionary for the people who used the reactor.
However, several other questions arose after the announcement. Since U235 isotopes are only formed through uranium enrichment, people questioned how civilizations from the past did it 2 million years ago.
How did a “natural old nuclear reactor” from 2 million years ago sustain the reaction for 500,00 years without adverse effects? Who used this nuclear reactor, and what would they use the energy for?