Nov 1, 2020

Ancient African Civilization Built Earth’s First Nuclear Reactor 2 Billion Years Ago

There are many secrets hidden in the African continent, and one of them is located in Oklo, Gabon. There was one of the richest uranium deposits on Earth. It was mainly used for nuclear power plants in Europe. France has operated several mines in this region for several decades. However, the uranium reserves were depleted. But back in 1972, something unsual was discovered in several uranium ore samples.

2 billion years old nuclear reactor
French physicist Francis Perrin

This oddity was first discovered by French physicist Francis Perrin. While examining a dark piece of radioactive natural uranium ore extracted from the Oklo mine, he noticed that the high-grade ore had a lower proportion of uranium-235 (U-235).

This discovery stunned the researchers and a team of scientists around the world.

2 billion years old nuclear reactor
One of the accessible nuclear reactors discovered in the Oklo region/ Image credit: Forbes

Uranium ore, like any other ore, is found in different places around the world, and each ore has its own characteristics that can be used to track its origin. Typically, Oklo ore contained 0.7202% uranium-235. However, some samples were found to have a concentration of only 0.600%. And that’s a pretty significant difference. It looked like this uranium had already been inside the reactor, because it was depleted just as if it had already been used.

During further research, it was found that the uranium deposits in Oklo underwent spontaneous fission inside a natural reactor. This happened about 1.8 billion years ago, and this required special conditions.

2 billion years old nuclear reactor
Original Uranium samples from Oklo/ Image credit: Ludovic Ferrière/Natural History Museum

It turned out that the ratio of U-235 to U-238 happened to be almost the same as used by a modern nuclear reactor, and all that was needed was the introduction of groundwater into the reaction zone as a neutron moderator.

An investigation began, and a commission of nuclear scientists was sent to Africa. After three months, scientists came up with shocking statements.

Firstly, initially, everything was fine with uranium, but it was used, and, accordingly, became depleted.

2 billion years old nuclear reactor
Natural nuclear reactors’ site in Gabon, West Africa

Secondly, in the area where uranium was mined, several nuclear reactors were discovered at once, with a reasonable structure, which are at least 2 billion years old.

These reactors worked for around 500,000 years, and the spent material was not utilized or removed from the area.

The findings prove that at that time, ancient civilizations were more advanced than we are now. No human-made reactor can be compared to what the French scientists found at the Oklo mining site.

Gradually, the excitement at the end of the 20th century subsided, uranium mining continued, and the reactors were somehow destroyed.

It is no longer possible to study the site, scientists are unlikely to find there something that would help modern technologies reach a higher level in this area.

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