Planet Earth is full of surprises despite our long reign on it as the most powerful species. Many of us think that all that needs to be discovered about it has been done, and there isn’t much it can offer. How wrong they are! There are swathes of territories in the world that are still devoid of human imprints like the deepest parts of the oceans that are nearly 11 kilometers deep. Even the areas where we have monitoring, we don’t get round the clock data about everything so there might be loads of surprises out there waiting for us. For instance, this naturally occurring Nuclear reactor in Africa appears novel, but it isn’t. It is as real as it gets.
This French Physicist in Oslo, Africa made this remarkable discovery while he was analysing Uranium deposits there. Naturally occurring Uranium deposits have a distinct concentration of U-235 atoms as compared to the U-238 ones. Normally, it is around 0.72% of the total Uranium, but the researcher was puzzled to find out that the sample under study had only 0.717% of U-235. Calculations showed that the deposit was devoid of more than 200 kilograms of the elusive isotope was missing as a result of this decrease in percentage. He asked the question to himself why was the sample missing basic concentration levels?
As you may have guessed, the number had decreased due to spontaneous nuclear reactions occurring in the deposit. The conditions were far more than ideal for the reactions to take place. Since U-235 only reacts to slow moving Neutrons in a chemical reaction, the presence of heavy water is necessary to slow them down which was present there, astonishingly. When the reactions took place, enormous amounts of heat were generated. The heat vaporized the water, and the reaction ceased, but when the water start pouring into place again, the reaction started again. This carried on until the concentration of U-235 ions was too small to take part in any more reactions.
But overall, the reaction occurred at a snail’s pace possibly taking place for centuries before it eventually cooled down. In 19 sites in all of Oklo, 100 kilowatts of heat was produced on and off as described. So, the inventors of fission technology weren’t humans. It was nature itself, but it remained at a humane level and had an automatic controlling and limiting system in place. Everything we do, nature can do it better!