Emerging Tech

Micro-nuclear reactors

Personal nuclear power plants aren't science fiction anymore.

Hyperion Power Generation, a New Mexico company, is planning to mass market within 5 years a small, modular, non-weapons grade nuclear power reactor named the Hyperion Hyperdrive -- in other words, your own personal nuclear power plant!

Hyperion Power Generation Nuclear ModuleThe nearly 50-year old design was invented by Dr. Otis “Pete” Peterson at the United States’ famed Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and has proved safe for students to use. Often referred to as a “nuclear battery,” the Hyperion HyperDrive is self-regulating with no mechanical parts to break down or otherwise fail. Sealed at the factory, the module is not opened until it has been returned to the factory to be refueled, approximately every five years or so, depending on use. This containment, along with the strategy of completely burying the module at the operating site, protects against the possibility of human incompetence, or hostile tampering and proliferation.

The reactor provides 70 megawatts of steam energy and 25 megawatts, which would power up to 20,000 average American homes. With an initial price tag of $25 million (US), it would be easily affordable for areas that need a dependable and guaranteed source of power that is less environmentally impacting than a full-scale nuclear or fossil-fuel powered plant. TES, a Czech infrastructure company specializing in power generation, has ordered the first 6 units and optioned another 12.

Toshiba is currently testing a 200KW reactor that measures 6 by 2 meters and are designed to last up to 40 years, which also uses the nuclear battery concept, as well as a 10 MW model that is being considered as the design for the Galena, Alaska nuclear power plant.

With world-wide power demands estimated to increase 60% by 2030, these miniature reactors are sure to become more common.

20 comments
OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

Why NOT use it? I don't have any objections to having one in my backyard especially if it'll cut down on our monstrous utility bills.

Jaqui
Jaqui

get an approval here. Vancouver has been a nuclear free zone since the 1950s. The harbour refuses entry to nuclear powered ships, not just the ones carrying nuclear weapons. The region would never accept a nuclear power plant.

.Martin.
.Martin.

except if it was tampered with. don't think a giant crater is very good...

santeewelding
santeewelding

Specially when time frames are set and money is plunked down. Is Google with its server farms onto this?

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

Let's see, 20,000 homes charged 200 per month for power comes up to 4 million bucks a month or 48 million per year for a 25 million dollar investment, hmmm. It is not clear if the unit can put out this kind of power for 5 years (stated life of the reactor) or not, but if it could the 5 year revenue would work out to 240 million dollars before a refuel. Of course I am leaving out a few things, like infrastructure, management and upkeep but if this works it looks like it could turn a profit.

brotherjohn
brotherjohn

I'm curious about this. I am 59 and was an avid SciFi reader in my younger days. I am seeing more and more of the concepts that were considered fantasy, becoming common place. I wonder what the limiting factor is on size? Minimum critical mass? Or is there a way around that? On further consideration, that was a stupid question... I answered it in my first statement. I'm a little hazy on the physics involved, but I'd sure like to hear the thoughts of others on this issue.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I don't work for them, but it would not suprise me if they did look into this kind of technology. Another big user could be the govenment/military. The government spends HUGE amounts of money every year providing electrical power to military bases and a few of these devices could easily provide their power needs. I can also see them being used at colleges, hospitals, airports, etc.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I am a little short of the initial price tag. However, if you loan me the monies, we can go in 50/50 on this venture :D

.Martin.
.Martin.

a way for the electric companies to make more money, but hopefully cheaper electricity...

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

According to information on the company's website, the unit runs at stated output for 5 years and then needs to be recharged. The company is estimating that within 15 years, the cost to produce electricity with the device would be 10 cents a watt. At those kinds of prices, I can see some significant interest from businesses. The one thing that I didn't mention is that to operate properly, the device obviously needs a source of water to heat to turn a steam turbine. I also ran across the Annual Energy Output research from the govenment and it has some very intersting information concerning power generation technologies, such as solar furnaces and wind power generation at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity.html. I think with the new emphasis on getting off of fossil fuels for power generation, we will see a whole host of new technologies that are going to create a whole multitude of new employment opportunities.

paul.matthews
paul.matthews

Did any one else think Terminator when reading this article? Although their nuclear power source lasted longer than 5 years.

TheChas
TheChas

NASA has been using small reactors to power deep space probes and similar satellites for years. The issue with commercial reactor size is shielding and containment. Concerns that do not exist in space for an unmanned probe. Chas

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I ran across http://homepages.cae.wisc.edu/~blanchar/res/BlanchardKorea.pdf, which is a presentation a while back while doing some research for a relative on pacemakers, which originally ran on Plutonium 238! Trading one improperly working heart for a chest full of one of the most toxic substances on earth is my definition of a bad deal... MSNBC also had a report http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7843868 on nuclear batteries that use the betavoltaics principle. Some of these devices could even be implanted in the human body with a great deal less risk than the older devices.

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

we get a loan from the government build it, and if it works out we sell it and retire, spas parties and everything. If on the other hand it fails, we go broke, ask for a bailout and again spas parties and everything. Clearly a win win situation.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

are sometimes wildly hyped in order to get investor interest radioactive materials will only become more expensive as demand for regular reactors booms again around the world. also small reactors like this are likely to be heavily regulated despite claims to being perfectly safe. being buried in the ground is not perfect shielding. here in CA we know that alot is moving around underground. the LA area looks like a bowl of cornflakes floating between mountains on the 1970's scientific american fault / local subplates map. steel water pipes and clay ones were all crushed during the last big SF quake. fire started again in the marina district but unlike the 1906 fire they were able to bring a pumper boat to the dock and run fire hose 6 blocks. I think local people may object to having a radiation source nearby. anything but alpha radiation and there will be an increase in background rads. It may be next to nothing but realize that nuke subs actually produce neutrinos like the sun does, that pass thru just about everything. So danger or no, locals may oppose it. We had a stink out here in Laguna Hills where local residents opposed a peak load only natural gas electric plant! It is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. That blew my mind. I wanted to yell at them "are you willing to turn off your A/C on the hottest days?" I doubt the company has any approvals for installation yet, might take new laws being written. concerns about what happens if a company goes bankrupts, is the power module installation site now a toxic dump cleanup case? What about an old forgotten one if they start proliferating, and years later a bulldozer rips open the module when demolishing a building? And, as fusion will eventually, when it becomes practical, the shielding, over many years will become radioactive from neutron bombardment. For something this small, probably alot less. But they'll want to regulate those materials. I'd heard of the pebble bed reactors also, which can't have a core meltdown as they can't get as close as a control rod assembly. I think they are just large scale plants tho. Interestingly, local generation is a good idea, as 35% of power is lost to the distribution grid. Local solar, wind, geothermal, local modules like this all could charge 35% more and break even if not importing power. utility laws need to be changed to reflect this, enabling 1 to 20 mw plants for small towns. (see nanosolar site for details) In the sci-fi realm, I had an unusual dream where we went into the back yard of a house and started digging in the ground. There was about a foot down, a sideways barrel sized module, with pipes connected, glowing bright yellow with swirling energy, probably a micro-fusion reactor? another dream a biz had them also, a bit bigger than a water heater, giving them freedom from the grid in the city, making power more reliable. (guess I'll eventually have to do an outer limits type series based on my dreams :)

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

Plutonium has a very long half life. That means it releases very little radiation. You could eat small amounts without any radiation damage as it emits only low power radiation that is stopped by the thickness of paper. We think of it as powerful but that is only when it is under conditions (in a reactor) that cause it to much more quickly decay into other elements, or in a bomb when that conversion would be even quicker. The only way for it to harm you is to inhale it. Then the very low level radiation irritates your very sensitive lung tissue, causing lung cancer. But so do cigarettes, paint fumes, diesel exhaust... Many other radioactive substances are much more toxic. Esp radioactive iodine or strontium which replaces calcium in our bones so is putting radiation close to the place where new red blood cells generate.

santeewelding
santeewelding

If you get enough of it in one place, like an implosion sphere, it is warm to the touch, telling you that more than just Alpha is going on.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

You're correct that the danger is inhaling it and if ingested, is about a toxic as lead and otehr heavy metals, which are all known to damage the brain, liver and kidneys. While not as dangerous as rubbing caesium chloride all over yourself, I wouldn't care to knowingly ingest plutonium.

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