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  • Nuclear Reactors the Size of a Hot Tub

    This could bring a whole new meaning to the “Not in My Back Yard” argument. Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. is looking to commercialize small, nuclear reactors for remote locations as soon as 2013. The reactors, developed at the reputable Las Alamos National Laboratory, are the size of a hot tub and buried under ground; it is impossible for them to melt down or be broken down into weapons. Furthermore, the amount of nuclear waste one of these reactors produces after about 5 years is about the size of a softball and could be reprocessed for more energy.

    And how much electricity do these “hot tubs” pump out? Enough to power 20,000 average-sized homes. Not bad.

    Are they realistic? Altira Group LLC, a venture capitalist firm that funds energy technologies, sure seems to think so. Peter Edwards, partner at Altira and board member of Hyperion Power Generation said,

    We look to partner with companies who are developing transformative technology to meet increasing global demand. HPG’s technology will have a prominent role in the energy world of the future, providing a safe, compact, near-zero-emission, waste-efficient source for thermal and electrical energy.”

    Toshiba has some stake in this game, as well. They’ve been working on a 20 feet by 6 feet reactor that would produce electricity at about half the price of regular grid electricity. They could become commercially viable in Japan in 2008, and Toshiba hopes to expand to Europe and the U.S. in 2009.

    This is a perfect example of why we can’t move forward with centrally planned energy policy. Innovation and the market will develop unforeseen means to meet energy demands that would be most likely be restricted by the tunnel vision of a central planner.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    14 Responses to Nuclear Reactors the Size of a Hot Tub

    1. Pingback: FreeTroll.com / Another Piece Of The Energy Puzzle: Nuclear

    2. Rod Adams says:


      Though I am a big fan of smaller nuclear power systems, I think that Hyperion's marketing department is being a little deceptive.

      Almost all nuclear reactors are very compact devices. It is nothing terribly special to say that something the size of a hot tub can produce enough heat to produce 27 MW of electricity when connected to a suitable steam turbine system.

      The problem is that the steam turbine system, with its associated piping, auxiliary systems and heat sink, will take up about 9-50 times as much space as the reactor heat source.

      Take a look at the drawings for a Westinghouse AP-1000 or a GE ESBWR. Locate the reactor and then see how much equipment and volume is outside of that single component of the system.

      The Hyperion Power Module may very well be a competitive source of heat for a steam plant. It could fit in well with a distributed grid environment or as a power source for remote areas where fuel deliveries are problematic. I just wish that the company's marketers would tell a more complete story about the size and cost of an actual power system, not just focus on the heat source component.

    3. Paxus, Takoma Park M says:

      More promises "safe, cheap, clean". Just like regular nuclear power, right ? Wrong. The only thinkg the nuclear folx can get right is the marketing, where they continue to tell us wild promises of what the next generation of reactors will perform like and they dont meet the promises.

      The current third generation reactors in France and Finland are both behind schedule and over budget significantly. With no place to store the highest level waste, they are problematic in small scale, just like large. Moodys is talking about $7500 per installed KW, several multiples more than proven wind and solar generation.

      Tell me why we are doing nuclear again? Oh because we are believing the same stories we were told 30 years ago, by the same companies.

    4. Rod Adams says:

      Paxus – You are confusing marketing messages with technical facts. One fact that few people get right is that there are plenty of places to store used fuel materials – we have been doing that job safely and effectively for more than 50 years without hurting anyone or "dumping" it anywhere. The volume is so small all of the used fuel is right on the same site where it was generated and it takes up about as much space as the executive parking lot.

      I will grant that there have been some unfilled promises so far, but there has also been a great deal accomplished because of the technical merits of using heavy metal fission compared to other sources of heat energy.

      Nuclear power plants in the US currently produce about 30% more electricity each year than the entire grid did in 1960 and they do it at an average production cost of about 1.76 cents per kilowatt-hour. Compared to coal at 2.47, gas at 6.78 and petroleum at 10.26, they are economical suppliers of reliable power. In addition, they do not produce any pollutants during operation.

      As a guy who served as an engineer officer on a submarine, I have direct, personal experience with the incredible technology that enables a mass of fuel that could fit under my office desk to power a 9000 ton ship for 15 years of operation.

      It is simply not possible for wind and solar power to replace coal, natural gas and petroleum in power plants, but it is possible for uranium. Do you really want to keep burning 1.2 billion tons of coal, 7 trillion cubic feet of gas and 100 million barrels of oil each year in US electrical power production?

      IMHO – PART of the reason for the unfilled promises is a very diligent marketing effort by the suppliers of those fossil fuels – they use people like you to help protect their remaining market share.

    5. Alan, USA says:

      At 25 million per unit and 27 MW of electricity that equates to $925 per KWe of capacity, or $357 per KWth if you just need process heat, which is pretty darn cheap when compared to new nuclear power cost estimates I have seen (2500 – 9500 /KWe). Does anyone know what the final cost would be once steam generation equipment is added? I think the old idea that you need a huge plant (economies of scale) to make nuclear power cheap is proven false when you introduce factory series production like the Hyperion (economies of volume). I also like the point of use distributed generation model for the sake of simple reliability.

      In terms of the old wind verses nuclear debate you must always consider capacity factor. A wind farm is at best 20% of its nameplate capacity, sometimes much less, but a nuclear plant could be 90% over its entire life. While the capital cost of a generation III 1 GW nuke might be the same as a 1 GW wind farm, the wind farm will only give you 200MW of power, on average, whenever the wind wants to blow. So you need to build a 5GW nameplate farm, PLUS extremely large scale energy storage just to get 1GW of reliable base load wind-power, which is far more expensive and far less "green" than just building a nuclear plant when you do a total life cycle analysis.

      Wind and solar = square miles of land use, while Nuclear power is just acres, W&S = far outside point of use, while nuclear is anywhere you want it (less transmission line losses), W&S = mountains of steel, concrete, aluminum, and silicon, and nuclear is just a small hill. Nuclear has usable waste heat while W&S doesn’t. W&S = thousands of tons of waste from construction and mining, while nuclear is a handful of recyclable “waste”. The list goes on. Focusing on W&S means utilities just sigh at the costs of “green” power, and go for coal or gas, all the while nuclear is cheaper, safer, cleaner, and more practical. And it will get more so, once we start building new plants and putting more research dollars into next gen nuclear tech, but the same can’t be said for W&S, which will only increase use of commodities that are getting tighter and more expensive already.

    6. Pingback: Hyperion Power Generation Announces First Customer “Letter of Intent” : CleanTechnica

    7. Rod Adams says:

      Alan – as you say – focusing on wind and solar means that utilities continue to burn coal and/or gas.

      I think there are plenty of fossil fuel marketers that like that result. That could be one reason that the wind and solar marketers get such strong political and financial support.

      Of course, making that connection means that people have to acknowledge that some marketing efforts can be a bit devious.

    8. Thomas Gray, South, says:

      Mr adams,,

      Good to hear from someone that knows whats whats I to a'm a navy vet that worked on a atomic sub tender but only as a lowly engineman, in any case the problems that I see are atom coal and all the other sources for electricity are fine with me except for gas,,,

      gas is critical for heating in the northern part of the country,,fuel oil is soon going to be very exspensive,,, and for anyone liveing in the south, electric home heating is much to expensive anywhere north of nyc,

      this is a solveable problem by using atom power to replace the gas fired power plants,and will ease the transition away from ff that must be made, coal is ok for electricity but very dirty as a home heating fuel,,as a child my dad used coal to heat our farmhouse in central maine it was a very black smoke.

      I really don't have any good answers I'm just trying to gain some time for us to address these problems. and find a way to act on them also.

    9. Pingback: hot tubs

    10. John Ryan says:

      I am still waiting for the flying cars

    11. Chuck , Diamondhead, says:

      One mistake made by Americans opposed to nuclear energy (and drilling for oil, for that matter) is the assumption that only America matters.

      E.g. We see great opposition to drilling off the US coast, but apparent total disregard to the totally unregulated consequences of drilling elsewhere in the world. "Just don't let the oil I buy pollute MY back yard!" seems to be the cry.

      The 3rd World will go wild using the oil dollars they get from us to buy these micro nuclear power plants for the same reason they went wild buying wireless phone systems: a) minimal infrastructure investment, b) rapid deployment.

      And as a consequence, they get extra heat energy to desalinate water and crack water into hydrogen for there new automobile industries.

      Watch out America… while we're wiring up our windmills, the 3rd world may be taking a bold step into a NEW New World.

    12. Stan Thompson says:

      Rod Adams: Your comment is insightful direct and to the point…what you fail to address is the incredibly long half life of the spent nuclear materials. And not to mention the irradiation of the surrounding areas with nuclear materials.

      Yes, the amount of fuel required to generate large amounts of energy is astoundingly small, but the incredible elevation in the risk of permanent damage to the human genetic fabric of this planet due to human error…which statistically raises considerably the more an activity is conducted and branches out…is very real in my mind.

      Nuclear waste doesn't just kill people, it permanently damages the genes of living things, this equates into malformations that carry on well into the future life / generations of offspring of the living organism.

      This aspect of nuclear power, can NOT be ignore, and I feel that unless more money is spent on developing research that accelerates the half-life of this spent nuclear fuel, that nuclear power should not be proliferated or advocated.

    13. David J. Whitfill PE says:

      This is an email that I sent to Hyperion Power Generation. Thought some might be interested:

      I am curious as to a statement found with regards to the modular reactor design: “The system uses a technology that was originally developed at Los Alamos National Laboratories and licensed by the company for commercial development.” I am not aware of any reactor prototype that has been built and operated to support this statement. Coming from a reactor background in the Navy (Submarines/Prototype instructor) and as a research reactor operator/supervisor, I am interested in whether or not such a prototype will be built and tested. Given the kind of money that has been set aside for research, $25 million does not seem unreasonable in order to demonstrate the viability of the design.

      Your design and the Toshiba 4s design certainly have potential. I am in agreement that smaller reactors have their place. From a political perspective it is unfortunate that McCain had such a pronuclear stance, yet his running mate was one of the obstacles for the Galena, Alaska Toshiba 4S reactor project.

      David J. Whitfill PE CHP

    14. J superior wi says:

      Now the next big feat, make one small enough to power a car for 10 years, that is safe. :)

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