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Distributed "Nuclear Batteries" the New Infrastructure Answer?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the not-in-my-backyard dept.

Power 611

thepacketmaster writes "The Star reports about a new power generation model using smaller distributed power generators located closer to the consumer. This saves money on power generation lines and creates an infrastructure that can be more easily expanded with smaller incremental steps, compared to bigger centralized power generation projects. The generators in line for this are green sources, but Hyperion Power Generation, NuScale, Adams Atomic Engines (and some other companies) are offering small nuclear reactors to plug into this type of infrastructure. The generator from Hyperion is about the size of a garden shed, and uses older technology that is not capable of creating nuclear warheads, and supposedly self-regulating so it won't go critical. They envision burying reactors near the consumers for 5-10 years, digging them back up and recycling them. Since they are so low maintenance and self-contained, they are calling them nuclear batteries."

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Critical (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26334955)

Well, it has to go critical (k=1) if there is a constant power output...

Need more guarantees than that (-1, Troll)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334957)

supposedly self-regulating so it won't go critical

Supposedly? Whaddya mean 'supposedly'? Look, if this thing is gonna be buried in MY backyard, I want a LOT MORE than 'supposedly'.

Great in space, not in my backyard. (1, Troll)

Erris (531066) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335027)

A simpler mechanism has been used for decades, radioisotope thermal generators [wikipedia.org] . These show all the strength and weaknesses of the idea on a smaller scale than full reactors. They provide reliable power in harsh conditions. They also pose a clean up hazard. The former Soviet Union is littered with old RTGs which should be retired [wikipedia.org] but end up vandalized by people who don't understand the danger to themselves and others [wikipedia.org] . It's worse when the vandals DO know what they are getting into. Promises are not worth much even when you are an organization as large as the Soviet Union was. These benefits and problems are orders of magnitude larger for full reactors.

Re:Need more guarantees than that (4, Interesting)

dafrazzman (1246706) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335209)

Most reactors are built in such a way that automatically prevents them from going over critical (critical is where you want to be, as someone already pointed out). The very nature of their design, assuming something doesn't mess up, keeps them safe.

The thing is, even though reactors are built with countless safety features, something could still go wrong. That's why you have professionals constantly (or at least daily) monitoring everything. Now, if you go and produce millions of mini-reactors, put them in the backyards of regular citizens, give them nothing but automated monitoring, and leave them going for awhile, something is eventually going to go wrong. It still might work on a one-community-at-a-time basis, though. As long as appropriate precautions are taken, nuclear power is extremely effective and clean (compared to coal).

Re:Need more guarantees than that (1, Funny)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335307)

nuclear power is extremely effective and clean (compared to coal).

Suicide with a gun is extremely effective and clean (compared to with a knife).

Re:Need more guarantees than that (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335447)

And nuclear is far reliable than solar and wind.

Re:Need more guarantees than that (1)

alohatiger (313873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335371)

...from going over critical (critical is where you want to be, as someone already pointed out).

I don't understand: do you mean "going (to the condition known as) over critical" or "going over (or beyond) critical"?

I think Ed Asner did an old SNL skit like this. Nuke plant manager leaves for vacation and tells employees: "Remember, you can't put too much water on a nuclear reactor."

Alarms go off, employees: "Did he mean, no matter how much water we put on it, it will be OK? Or did he mean that we have to make sure we don't exceed the proper amount of water?"

Re:Need more guarantees than that (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335425)

You might want to read the link. Each reactor can power 20,000 homes so they are not going to put them in everybody's or frankly anybody's back yard.

Re:Need more guarantees than that (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335273)

"Supposedly" is editorial flair for "I don't understand the science or the hardware, but dammit if I'm not afraid of it, so I'm going to throw doubt on everything".

In reality, they're actually quite safe. In fact, they're probably even safer than coal, especially as of the recent coal slurry disaster in Tennessee and the Mercury in coal smoke.

Attach the word "nuclear" to something and watch the fear level rise.

Re:Need more guarantees than that (5, Informative)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335557)

The irony is that a Coal Plant is actually MORE radioactive than a Nuclear Plant!!

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste [sciam.com]

Hint: It in the ashes and it affect 1 mile around it. Don't eat stuff from your garden!

Re:Need more guarantees than that (4, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335299)

Summary is incorrect. The "nuclear battery" (incorrect name) would have a 99.5% chance of "going critical". After all, that's what nuclear power plants do. What they mean is that the plant would have an infinitesimally small chance of achieving super-criticality. Super-criticality would be a very bad thing, but even that can be mitigated with enough cement. End result? The reactor will be as safe or safer than installing a Diesel Generator in the same location. But it will be more powerful, economical, and environmentally friendly.

Sexay! (4, Funny)

shaitand (626655) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334963)

Three-headed fish coming to a pond near you!

Re:Sexay! (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334997)

Not to mention four-assed monkeys.

Re:Sexay! (1)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335337)

Three-headed fish coming to a pond near you!

In honor of The Simpsons I'm calling mine Blinky.

Re:Sexay! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335495)

Three-headed fish coming to a pond near you!

I heard it's tasty.

why not just do this with solar. (4, Interesting)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334965)

why bring back the risk of meltdown/contamination. This can be achieved using solar and wind. same distributed concept. Just instead of a power cell you have a house covered with solar panels or a wind generator.

Yes this wont' work everywhere but it is viable in many high demand locations ergo Southern California.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (1)

Bruiser80 (1179083) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335041)

I did not RTFA, but it sounds like green options are being considered along with Nuclear options. This summary seems to focus on the nuclear aspect, although a "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tag could be applied to any decentralized grid concept. :-)

Re:why not just do this with solar. (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335093)

Isn't Nuclear energy pretty green? Yes, there's some amount nuclear waste, but there sure isn't much.

Seems like it'd be better to say that there are "other" green options.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335353)

I would not consider it "green." It may not be a fossil fuel, but it's still not renewable. How much nuclear fuel do we really have left? And has anyone done an analysis to see how much energy is obtained during operation versus how much is spent mining and refining the fuel and building nuclear plants / containment vessels?

Re:why not just do this with solar. (1, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335385)

Nukes aren't "green". The production of their fuel produces nearly as much Greenhouse pollution as is emitted by the fossil fuels they substitute for. Building, maintaining and demolishing their plants consumes even more power. The maintenance of their toxic spent fuel consumes lots of energy, producing lots of pollution, indefinitely. Security for all those operations is also wasteful.

With nukes, there "isn't much" waste by mass compared to, say, coal or petroleum, but a little nuke waste goes a long way.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (5, Informative)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335515)

to be fair there would be virtually no waste to worry about if reprocessing were allowed.
Our current problem is that spent fuel still contains much fissle material, and reprocessing fuel rods to get the material out is disallowed by the DOE.

If you reprocessed the fuel to make new fuel, and were left with only the low level waste then the radiation hazard would be fairly comparable with coal ash.
-nB

Re:why not just do this with solar. (2, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335409)

Yes, there's some amount nuclear waste, but there sure isn't much.
So we can drop off that 'not much' waste in your backyard? Nuclear waste is bad stuff, even in small amounts.

Nuclear is only 'green' when you exclude the waste issue.

Anything that produces waste that must be maintained for thousands of years isn't a sustainable process.

It's funny in that it's the reverse of fossil fuels which use thousands/millions of years worth of buildup for a few days/weeks of power. With nuclear you get a few days/weeks of power in exchange for thousands of years of management of the after affects.

Coal/Oil is perfectly green if you don't consider the waste it produces too.

as an aside, in my fantasy world couldn't we fire the nuclear waste into the Sun? It strikes of the anti-environ folks who claim that humans can't possibly affect the global climate. But as a serious question, could we as a planet possibly produce enough nuclear waste to actually affect the Sun significantly enough to matter to us? If we shorten it's life by a million years, isn't that still 2-3 million years before we get there?

Re:why not just do this with solar. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335047)

"This can be achieved using solar and wind. same distributed concept."

"Yes this wont' work everywhere"

Well then no, it can't then.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (5, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335073)

Solar takes a lot of space and puts out a lot less power. It's also costlier. And the process of manufacturing solar panels is horrible for the environment.

Nuclear power is, believe it or not, the cleanest technology we have available, even if you consider the highly radioactive waste and the (typically minute) risk of meltdown.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335375)

Isn't the problem with nuclear that we're running out of fuel? I'm pretty sure we're at least nearing peak uranium production right now.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335443)

You don't have to use solar panels, Concentrating solar power plants don't take very much energy to build.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrating_solar_power

They do take a lot of space, but we have plenty of desert areas on earth where they wouldn't do much harm and get lots of sunligt at the same time.

Yes, transporting the energy would be a problem, but an engineering problem which can be solved in many different ways.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (3, Insightful)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335155)

Are you dense? Nuclear = 24/7 power. Solar = sometimes power.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (2, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335437)

Solar + battery = usually power. Solar + battery + grid = 24/7 power. Who's being the dense one?

Re:why not just do this with solar. (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335505)

Solar = Electricity = Electrolysis = hydrogen = infinite storage of the energy for fuel cells.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335247)

Yes this wont' work everywhere but it is viable in many high demand locations ergo Southern California.

And, as usual when discussing things of this nature, us plebs stuck in the other 99% of the globe thank you for your lack of consideration for people outside your happy wonderland of technology and liberal-minded population.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (1)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335249)

Lets see it's fission is the only current clean source that can deal with our expanding power needs. These sound like RTG's pretty much a ball of radioactive material at the center of something that looks like a transformer. It makes heat and as the heat moves though the wires it generates electricity. Were talking no moving parts simple. The problem is they are big and do not put out much power more like a few hundred watts sustained for decades.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (2, Funny)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335255)

From TFA:

The generator from Hyperion is about the size of a garden shed, and uses older technology that is not capable of creating nuclear warheads, and supposedly self-regulating so it won't go critical.

I like this concept. *cough* Get something that could meltdown, but lets just bury it and forget about it, cause everyone makes things that just don't fail. What's the worst that could happen if it DOES fail?

The lights go out, but it's okay, because everyone glows...

Re:why not just do this with solar. (5, Funny)

jcgf (688310) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335403)

I like this concept. *cough* Get something that could meltdown,

Better get that cough looked at, might be from the local coal plant.

Re:why not just do this with solar. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335499)

It can't meltdown. You bury it for security and to shield from gamma. If this thing is emiting neutrons then they better not bury it but shield it.

Advantages of nukes. (5, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335283)

They are more flexible and more reliable.

1. You can site them anywhere. Solar and wind have to be sited where there is solar and wind.

2. They are available 24/7. Solar and wind are up to mother nature.

3. They have a higher power density. You need less area to power a bunch of homes. This translates into more safety, and ultimately a lower land use footprint, leaving more room for, well, things that live in the environment.

4. Lower environmental risk. We have barely studied the long term effects caused by draining energy out of the wind, or, of robbing the ground from solar energy to convert to electricity. The aggregate effects of billions of windmills and solar panels upon the earth are not understood. With nukes, we know the risks. We might have a meltdown, some radiation, and a leak, but that's about it.

Didn't the Russians do this? (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334967)

I seem to remember watching a show about little reactors put in out of the way places all over Russia to power navigation aids and stuff. The show I watched, one had been opened and guys were taking turns trying to get the radio active material into a container to get it moved. Some hunters had found it and got radiation poisoning.

Mr. Fusion (1)

raftpeople (844215) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335065)

I saw this on TV also, but the thing was attached to a silver car that could travel back and forth through time

Re:Didn't the Russians do this? (3, Informative)

shaitand (626655) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335083)

I did on-site service work recently for a 'union man' who did some work at a nearby nuclear power plant. He told me that after they were suited up they walked in and decided they were bill gates, mr burns, and homer simpson. They were told to move a radioactive part and 'burns' asked 'gates' if he was going to go get that. He said, "Hell no, I'm not moving that fucking thing. I'm Bill Gates, I'll buy homer a six-pack and that dumb bastard'll do it". Apparently the staff at the plant didn't find it as funny as they did.

He also had screen by screen pictures of the computer-based nuclear safety exams they all used to cheat their way in and could have walked right off the set of the sopranos but that is another story.

Re:Didn't the Russians do this? (3, Informative)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335317)

Probably RTGs [wikipedia.org] , which the USSR put in a lot of lighthouses and other remote places that needed power (with poor documentation, so nobody knows where all these things are anymore). They take a radioactive source (preferably a pure-alpha emitter, since they're easy to sheild, but theoretically any radiation will work) then use the Seeback effect to generate electricity.

What it sounds like they're doing in this article is having an actual nuclear reactor with fissionable material, rather than just generating power off of radiation. They seal it up, bury it, and don't expect to have to do any maintenance for 10 years or so. The fuel source is unsuitable for weapons (it could, of course, make a dirty bomb, but those are more about fear mongering than an actual threat), and has the same self-regulating properties as a pebble bed, where fission simply stops if it gets too hot. At $30 million each, I could easily see these getting bought by medium-sized municipalities to cover their energy needs, though it's a bit much for the totally decentralized grid that the article talks about.

Re:Didn't the Russians do this? (1)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335331)

Those are radioisotope thermoelectric generators which power themselves from the decay heat of kilograms of Strontium-90; They were designed for remote zero-service locations such as lighthouses. They'd would happily run unattended for 20 years until falling to half their original power output, at which point the equipment they powered generally shut down.

According to Wiki there have been several cases of both innocent travellers and thieves being irradiated to death - the travellers slept by them for the tens of thousands of watts of heat they throw off, the thieves while trying to steal materials from them.

Re:Didn't the Russians do this? (3, Funny)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335521)

> the travellers slept by them for the tens of thousands of watts of heat they throw off

When I travel in cold climates I often like to sleep next to tens of thousands of watts of heat. Really takes the edge of a frosty night. Of course I'll sleep by megawatts of heat if I can find it, for a real warm night.

Don't they know? (0)

ThePlague (30616) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334977)

You can't glow home again?

I can see it now. (-1, Troll)

No2Gates (239823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334979)

Some drunk in a Suburban runs into one at 75mph and contaminates the neighborhood. Yeah, great idea.

reading is hard.... (4, Funny)

the_fat_kid (1094399) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335221)

I think that you'd have to be realy drunk to drive 75mph UNDERGROUND.

Re:reading is hard.... (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335343)

I think that you'd have to be realy drunk to drive 75mph UNDERGROUND.

Shhhh!

Don't ruin the fun of the idiots who just type shit to make nuclear energy seem scary.

Re:reading is hard.... (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335349)

So I take it you've never driven a Suburban? ;)

mod down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335481)

they are burried 3 meters underground in secured locations. read before posting.

nuclear cowboy

Re:I can see it now. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335497)

you know, even with your little goosestepping nickname, you don't have rights to be a moron around here?

just thought i would let you know.

BIG psychological barrier (4, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 5 years ago | (#26334981)

Convincing people to let the government/power agency to bury "nuclear" ANYTHING near a town is like a huge red flag to conservationsists and the 'anti-establishement' people.

Remember, there are still people out there that think powerlines cause cancer, and that vaccinations cause autism, despite scientific evidence.

Nuclear uis a huge red button. I don't think this option is politically viable except in rare circumstances.

I can see it working for small islands and other population centers that are far away/cut off from other population centers. If you are talking about a largish island that has no power supply on it, then it might work. Or an Alaskan town far from everywhere else.

But I can't see someone putting one of these things say in the middle of NYC, Los Angelos, or even on Long Island

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

Adult film producer (866485) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335071)

But I can't see someone putting one of these things say in the middle of NYC, Los Angelos, or even on Long Island"

I can see it happening. And it would make a splendid tourist attraction, kind of like the Mermaid of the Sea in Copenhagen. Have little kids sit on top of it while mom & pop take a picture. That would be very cool.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335413)

They should build a nuclear power plant on the old WTC site.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335135)

your correct, but don't rule out that psychology changes also. The US as a country is in such a mental flux right now anything that seems viable that could produce jobs and get us out of the middle east would be acceptable.

Perhaps not a Millstone 1, &2 but a little shed under ground that no one is even aware of maybe ?? yes no ?

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335189)

I think the "no one is even aware of" is one of the fears that will block this idea. Americans don't trust the government. PARTICULARLY if they are trying to do something that that "no one is even aware of".

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

grantek (979387) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335315)

OTOH, if you pick a few reasonable-sized cities (not a "major" one) open to the idea, install the generators, and make a big fuss over "oh, how great is this cheap power, especially for my new Volt", then you can hit the "fluctuate power" button on some of the cities opposed to the idea and watch them cave.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335487)

Might too late - now that oil is down, unfortunately the memory of the pain of prices that go with $150/barrel oil starts to fade - good for the wallet, good for economy, but not good for alternative energies (whether or not one feels that nuclear "batteries" are viable)

But who knows, maybe the late 2000's are different from the 1970's (previous oil "crisis")

People are brighter now than back then (I was going to make a jab at older people and leaded gas - "yes, its good for engines, lets put this neurotoxin into gasoline..." - but I wouldn't :-))

Re:BIG psychological barrier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335151)

HA! Go ahead, bury it... see if I care! My tinfoil hat protects me from radiation!

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

grantek (979387) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335399)

Are you mad!? If I were you, I'd be removing my spine and wrapping it in tin foil before reinstalling it - the thing's like a big downwards-pointing antenna for your brain!!

Try putting 1000 of them in LA and Greater NYC (2, Insightful)

billstewart (78916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335329)

So these reactors power about 20,000 homes. That means that to power LA and the greater NYC area you'd need about 1000 of them. Good luck with that. People get annoyed enough if you want to put cellphone towers in their back yards.

And think of what NYC looks like during a garbage strike, and imagine what it'd be like if the garbage is now radioactive waste :-)

And yeah, sure, putting one in Alberta tar-sands country is fine, because the only people living up there are the oil workers.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

swb (14022) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335391)

If they would offer nearby customers electricity at cost (1-2 cents per KwH), I'd do it.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335401)

There's a connection with childhood leukemia that has been linked to high voltage towers nearby. But it's not strongly correlated.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

drewvr6 (1400341) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335439)

Come on people! The French are using nuclear energy! Are you saying the French are smarter than us? Who came up with the Simpsons, huh? Who?! That's right. Case closed.

Re:BIG psychological barrier (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335501)

I dont think the reluctance to have one of these is irrational. These are niche devices. Theyre for areas where power is hard to come by and when you get it, its very expensive. If you live in a populated center then the power you get from the energy company is probably cost effective.

These things have a 10 or 15 year repayment schedule. It makes your little town or big subdivision a little power company. Toss in what it costs for some backup power and the laying of lines, etc its usually better to just go with the power company.

These things are good for rural situations and in poor countries without infrastructure. Its not a drop in replacement for the power company.

Peace through mini nukes! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335005)

The liquid metal reactor takes advantage of the physical properties of a fissile metal hydride, such as uranium hydride, which serves as a combination fuel and moderator. The invention is self-stabilizing and requires no moving mechanical components to control nuclear criticality. In contrast with customary designs, the control of the nuclear activity is achieved through the temperature driven mobility of the hydrogen isotope contained in the hydride. If the core temperature increases above a set point, the hydrogen isotope dissociates from the hydride and escapes out of the core, the moderation drops and the power production decreases. If the temperature drops, the hydrogen isotope is again associated by the fissile metal hydride and the process is reversed. The chemical isotope splits chemically when it gets too hot. Just like water boils and turns into steam, you can design the water system to not exceed the boiling point of water. You would have to keep the water under pressure to force higher temperatures.

The safety systems will be similar but the reactor cores are different between the Triga (fuel rods in a pool type reactor) and the Hyperion Power Generation Uranium Hydride (liquid metal) reactor.

If you were going to blow it up, it would take a lot of explosives -like blowing up a 15-20 ton buried bank vault. A lot of explosives to penetrate the concrete cask and then more to blow through however many feet of dirt it is buried under.

It would not add much to the cost to have sensors and digital video camera security to these things. So extreme tunneling, attempts to move it or blow it up should be easily detectable and action taken.

For the amount of effort and explosives it would take then just take those explosives and add radioactive material (available in mines and in less secure facilities and sources) and then put your dirty bomb anywhere. Thus there is no incremental risk.

The nuclear material is tougher to turn into nuclear bombs than using raw uranium, which a terrorist could get from natural sources (mines etc...). Again no incremental risk (we are adding no new risk as there is an easier existing path).

For getting oil from oil shale this system can supply heat instead of natural gas. Hyperion also offers a 70% reduction in operating costs (based on costs for field-generation of steam in oil-shale recovery operations), from $11 per million BTU for natural gas to $3 per million BTU for Hyperion. Over five years, a single Hyperion reactor can save $2 billion in operating costs in a heavy oil field. A lot of the initial one hundred orders are from oil and gas companies.

A single truck can deliver the HPM heat source to a site. The device is supposed to be able to produce 70 MW of thermal energy for 5 years. That means that the truck will be delivering about 10.5 trillion BTU's to the site. Natural gas costs about $7 per million BTU which would would cost $73 million.

It would be better to compare the HPM to diesel fuel, which currently costs about 2 times as much per unit of useful heat as natural gas and still requires some form of delivery for remote locations. In some places, fuel transportation costs are two or three times as much as the cost of the fuel from the central supply points.

        In certain very difficult terrains, or in places where there are people who like to shoot at tankers, delivery costs can be 100 times as much as the basic cost of the fuel.

Initially these units will be in remote areas near oil sand projects and they will not be directly under people's houses. Do people live directly over power transformers or oil refineries ? The first few thousand can be placed on the site of existing nuclear and coal plants which have a few square miles of space. Even if there eventually there was one for every twenty thousand or ten thousand homes, they would be situated in some industrial zoned area. For eastern europe and island developments, the units will be sited several hundred meters from where people are living.

Three factories from a small company are scheduled to produce 4000 of these 15 ton reactors with each using 100-200 kg or so of uranium every 5-10 years. Make three hundred factories and produce 400,000 of these 15 ton reactors every five years. 16,000 tons of uranium per year (a fraction of what we now use for light water reactors). Produce 10 TWe of power. Currently the world uses about 15 TWe of electricity. This system could provide virtually carbon and pollution free energy.

Reprocess the football size waste that is removed at the end of each 5-10 year cycle. And over the course of 15 years develop factory mass produced molten salt reactors for 99% efficiency use of the uranium or thorium.

After 50-100 years each of the units themselves would need to be decommissioned. If there were 80,000 per year in 50-100 years then 1.6 million tons of material to handle each year. This is far less of an issue than the billions of tons of CO2 and particulates from coal, and less of an issue than the mercury, arsenic and toxic metals which are often not contained or the bits of Uranium and Thorium in the coal which go up the fuel stacks at 20,000 tons/year.

They use 4.9% enriched uranium. Fissile fuel burnup of at least 50% should be achievable with adequate design. This about 450 gigawatt days per ton of uranium or thorium. This is about ten times more efficient than current nuclear reactors. There would half as much left over uranium (unburned fuel)

It's fuel lasts for about 5 years. Other reactors also have re-fueling. In this case, refueling is done by digging up the reactor if needed and then having the manufacturer perform the refueling. In between there are no people operating the reactor because it is self-regulating. The manufacturer separates about a football size amount of material when taking the used fuel out.

It's parts is basically a hot tub full of uranium hydride with some hydrogen and some heat exchange rods. The right tub of materials regulates itself while generating electricity

CO2 like crazy, not to mention food prices zooming. Hydropower's pretty well maxed out - "and think of the little fishies!" - and hydrogen? You need power to crack H2O to get it - it's a net loss for power. Can't use oil or natural gas, that doesn't leave much to run a technologically based civilization on.

Re:Peace through mini nukes! (1, Troll)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335357)

bullshit - not "a lot of explosives", that containment vessel is VERY thin compared to a conventional PWR, more like a couple minutes with common construction equipment to breach one of these. and as a bonus Hyperion's choice of fuel is extremely flammable and explosive upon contact with air. These things would be a *very* attractive terrorist targets

NIMBY (3, Insightful)

CambodiaSam (1153015) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335017)

No matter how safe it is, I'm betting this will be the largest "Not In My Back Yard" example ever put forth in American History.

Yup. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335097)

The only way to solve that problem is to offer something signficant in return, such as free electricity for homes within a certain distance of the "battery". Getting everyone within that radius to agree might be something else entirely.

Smells like bologna (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335025)

and uses older technology that is not capable of creating nuclear warheads

IIRC, weren't nuclear warheads the first large scale application of this technology? In this field it's the older technology that scares me the most.

And if they're too small to make warheads out of...what happens if you steal two or three of them?

Re:Smells like bologna (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335141)

I am fairly certain that the actual radioactive materials used in warheads are not the same as those used in nuclear power generation. I could be wrong.

Ok, so let's say you steal two or three of them. Now what? You'd have to have a pretty interesting "house" to be able to take radioactive materials and turn them into a bomb, presuming they're even the correct type of material. I don't think making a nuclear bomb is exactly one of those basement projects... not to mention that most nuclear reactors of any size have a ton of concrete around them. That might be rather interesting to try to move. Or don't you think that someone would notice a huge crane parked next to where they buried a nuclear reactor? hehe.

Re:Smells like bologna (1, Informative)

gordon1986 (573152) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335153)

Nuclear warheads require a certain ratio of Pu-239. Plutonium nuclides cannot be separated or enriched in an isotopic manner. (ie: if the spent fuel has 4% Pu-239, 90% Pu-240 and 6% Pu-241, it will always have that composition, you can't enrich it to 50% Pu-239) Therefore, unless the original Uranium fuel has the correct ratio of U-238 to the other nuclides, weapons grade plutonium cannot be crafted from the fuel, at any time.

Re:Smells like bologna (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335373)

It's not that they're too small, it's that the nuclear fuel they use makes a very poor weapon. The same self-moderating behavior that makes it ideal for this kind of reactor makes it bad for a bomb, as it will blow the fuel apart before it can produce a large blast.

There were two uranium hydride bombs made, according to Wikipedia both tests produced the equivalent of only 200 tons of TNT. Little Boy produced an 18,000 ton yield.

Re:Smells like bologna (1)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335383)

How do you steal or break into a buried 20-ton bank vault without someone noticing?

Learn from the soviets⦠(0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335029)

The USSR used this form of power generation very widely in the 1950s and 1960s.

Today the lost and fallow reactors poison a great many people.

http://www.bellona.org/english_import_area/international/russia/navy/northern_fleet/incidents/37598

Not exactly. (4, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335053)

"Hyperion Power Generation Inc. has developed a garden shed-sized nuclear reactor that can produce enough heat to generate 25 megawatts of electricity for up to 10 years.

That's enough energy to power 20,000 homes, but still tiny by current nuclear standards."

These are not going to be burried in peoples back years.
A small town might have one city may have a few scattered around. A factory may have one or a data center.
As too what could go wrong? Well maybe they are as safe as they say. I would be willing to bet that they are pretty dang safe. If so then they could be great. Think of all the small villages in Northern Canada or Alaska that depend on diesel fuel truck or flown in. Or think of small nations like the Bahamas.
Yea this sounds great if it is safe.

nuclear warheads? (1)

BigBuckHunter (722855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335063)

What does the poster mean by "is not capable of creating nuclear warheads". Does he mean, "does not create by-products or waste that, if refined and combined with additional hardware, could possibly be used to create a nuclear warhead". Do we currently have nuclear power plants that are also capable of producing nuclear warheads (warheads that actually react and go boom and not just spread radioactive waste everywhere)?

BBH

Re:nuclear warheads? (1)

gordon1986 (573152) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335185)

What does the poster mean by "is not capable of creating nuclear warheads". Does he mean, "does not create by-products or waste that, if refined and combined with additional hardware, could possibly be used to create a nuclear warhead". Do we currently have nuclear power plants that are also capable of producing nuclear warheads (warheads that actually react and go boom and not just spread radioactive waste everywhere)?

He means that the spent fuel cannot be chemically manipulated to produce the correct composition of Plutonium.

We do currently have nuclear power plants in the US which produce weapons grade spent fuel.

Re:nuclear warheads? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335455)

We do currently have nuclear power plants in the US which produce weapons grade spent fuel.

Unfortunately, they've outsourced their security to a company called 'OBL Security, Inc.', headquartered on the Pakistani/Afghan border.

Re:nuclear warheads? (4, Informative)

samkass (174571) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335381)

There are two kinds of nuclear bomb-- Uranium and Plutonium. In order to get a Uranium bomb, you have to have highly enriched Uranium (a high U-235 to U-238 ratio). These reactors don't have anywhere near the U-235 ratio for that. The second option is Plutonium which is not a naturally-occurring substance. It is the by-product of some kinds of fission, and can be made in a specially designed nuclear reactor. These aren't those kinds of reactors, so you're not going to get enough Plutonium to be useful in weapons development.

Thus, one of these things wouldn't be much of a head-start over just mining some Uranium ore.

sounds good (1)

curtix7 (1429475) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335101)

A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a nuclear power plant under every neighborhood playground.

I didn't even have to look at the list of tags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335145)

to know that "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" would be there

Say Aircraft carrier (5, Insightful)

SirLanse (625210) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335167)

These have been working of submarines and aircraft carriers for decades.
It is high time some of that military tech comes to civilian use.
If you are afraid of nuclear power, you are on the wrong website.
This is supposed to be for technologically informed people.
    Yes, start in remote areas. Islands etc where running power lines is a major expensse would be the best places to start. NY and LA prefer to export the pollution to the suburbs.

Power Generation (2, Insightful)

NuclearError (1256172) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335177)

I RTFA and did not find how the battery actually produces power - is it with a typical steam turbine, or some novel new system? The compact size of the battery also raises some interesting engineering problems. The one I am most interested is shielding - if there is not enough shielding between the reactor and the cooling parts, the radiation will corrode the parts to the point of failure, which is bad especially underground. It does make a lot of sense to use this for remote outposts like mining though.

Basically one of these: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335207)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

First idiot with a backhoe (0, Troll)

astrodoom (1396409) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335211)

and we have a hazmat incident. What could be worse than a gas line breach...how about a core breach!

Re:First idiot with a backhoe (2, Informative)

Capt. Cooley (1438063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335335)

Digging with a backhoe for three meters, then through the seal the company is putting on the reactor? Plus they aren't going to be in backyards anyway. RTFA

I always get a kick out of this... (4, Insightful)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335231)

Nuclear power companies in the West have safety records and standards that would put any other power company and for that matter almost any other organization to shame (One significant incident at the outset in Britain, one minor incident in the US in '79, and a few messes of note in Japan) but any statements to the effect that it's safe, even if it's clearly impossible for a meltdown to occur, are prefixed with a clear suggestion of "But you should still be terrified of the Nuclear Bomb In Waiting."

But America gets half its power from coal, which dumps literally tons of thorium and uranium and mercury into the air due to fly ash every year.

Re:I always get a kick out of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335535)

You would think that those elements would be worth collecting and refining for use(thorium and uranium at least) or is it just that difficult to collect the ash?

A decentralized, bottom-up power generation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335243)

...system which could be encased and made safe and deweaponized makes too much sense for a government that is all about top-down centralization to ever allow to happen.

Dead idea (1, Troll)

pehrs (690959) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335261)

Radioisotope thermoelectric generators are nothing new. And they have the same problem as all small "safe" nuclear power generators.

They are full of highly radioactive material.

Even if the stuff can't go boom on it's own they make a perfectly good dirty bomb, if introduced to some simple explosives.

Not to mention that they can and do leak.

The Russians have many Radioisotope thermoelectric generator along their northern coast. And they get lost, leak and are generally a safety hazard.

Triga reactors (2, Informative)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335309)

TFA says they will be using TRIGA reactors, which are open pool reactors. From WikiP [wikipedia.org]

"Pool reactors are used as a source of neutrons and for training, and in rare instances for process heat but not for electrical generation."

So how exactly are these "nuclear battery" TRIGA supposed to actually create useful power? The flow of hydrogen atoms to the "hydrogen trays?" It doesn't say protons.

Of course, I am treating wikipedia as infallible here. Maybe that is the flaw.

What about the "Not in my backyard" folks? (1)

TJ_Phazerhacki (520002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335333)

Simple. They pay approximately 10-15x as much as the rest of us for non-local power generation. If a community, city, or municipality (or state, in the US) elects not to install the generators, you slap a meter on every line into the area. You charge them for every bit that passes into their area.

Also allows communities who want to pursue "Cleaner" (aka Hydro, Wind, Solar, etc) energy credits if they can overproduce.

We don't need a radically different infrastructure to implement technologies like this - we just need to better monitor our current one.

Yeh! (1)

vorlich (972710) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335363)

Go Nuclear!

Edison wins, in the end (1)

OpenYourEyes (563714) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335393)

The concept of "local power" was first advocated by... Thomas Edison. He was advocating small power stations all around a municipality for local distribution via his DC-based systems.

Westinghouse's AC system, however, allowed for transmission of power great distances. Despite using his name, and some patents, most of what we use today owes more to Westinghouse than Edison.

Sounds like the "go local" movement is gaining strength when it comes to power generation, too. Wonder if we'll be able to go back to DC? Probably not.

Hallelujah! (0, Troll)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335461)

Yay! Nuclear is Clean! It is now the Cleanest Energy Source, so now we can just bury reactors in our towns and forget about them, they're so clean! No worries about corrosion, wayward backhoes, leaks, manufacturing defects, faulty installation or setup, unforeseen design issues, ground settling or shifting, people digging them up and damaging them, government and utilities losing track of some of them, venting of radioactive fission products, etc. That won't happen. It can't happen because Nuclear is Clean! It's The Cleanest Of Them All!

Come on you stupid backward dipshit ignorant latte-sipping bisexual liberal faggots, get with the program!

Oh! Es inutil...

Cool (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335473)

Anything to get us one step closer to Shipstones.

25 MW in a shed needs a lake to cool! (2, Interesting)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335491)

Waste heat from one of these things is going to be comparable to the electrical output, and will require dissipating the waste heat. Either they'll need a cooling tower (the BIG part of any nuclear site!), or be placed next to a large river or lake. Folks sort of get upset putting nukes right next to their water supply and ecosystem, so both those alternatives suck.

If I only had 30 million... (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335523)

Well, if I only had 30 million, I'd buy one. Of course, if I had 30 million, I could actually afford to just throw the money at solar for my site.

If I were Bill Gates or a Walton, I'd get one of these to power MS or Walmart HQ or where ever their major data center is. One of theses is likely to power the business and the entire surrounding community for about 5-10 years or so. Now how much could 30 million in solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power?

What's really exciting is $30 million sounds about in the price range for a coop to buy. Sounds great for some folks.

radiation isn't the problem (1)

gondwannabe (1028488) | more than 5 years ago | (#26335543)

The Hyperion technology is a lot safer than the low-level research and medical reactors that still quietly exist all over the planet - there is no liquid cooling system that can catastrophically fail and burial will secure the installations. Nimby alarmists ignore that nuclear power is the safest source of energy by any measure, once all the real risks are compared. Disposal is safe, but has been made too costly due to post TMI/Chernobyl hysteria.

Sadly, the worlds uranium supply is limited. And, even at current consumption levels, is likely to become very scarce within the next 50 years, or so. Another problem is scalability - how many of these plants will have to roll off the production line to provide even 10% of the world's base load? My quick calculation says about 50,000 will be needed to reach this target. That's a lot of systems and a lot of uranium.

If you want to be safe, stay out of the street, stay off the road, stay out of the sun, avoid food and drink.

Dirty Bomb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26335545)

So... will this thing be able to withstand a truck full of dynamite parked beside it?

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