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Portable Nuclear Battery in the Development Stages

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the will-be-nice-if-it-happens dept.

Power 439

Xight writes "The Santa Fe Reporter has up an article about a portable nuclear reactor, about the size of a hot tub. Despite it's 'small' size the company that is planning to develop the product (Hyperion Power Generation), claims it could power up to 25,000 homes. 'Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn't like to think of its product as a reactor. It's self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn't require a human operator. "In fact, we prefer to call it a 'drive' or a 'battery' or a 'module' in that it's so safe," Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says. "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."' If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors."

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439 comments

Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewhere (5, Funny)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476033)

I have some clients from the Middle East with a suitable truck. Where can I purchase this thing?

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0, Troll)

Kamineko (851857) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476047)

ACME?

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (2, Informative)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476129)

I hope they keep tabs on who buys these things. And the summary is so full of radioactive nonsense that it makes you wonder if this is on the level. Radio-isotope generators are nothing new. Voyager was powered by one, iirc. But what with the potential for high level mischief using the component parts in there let's hope that they don't hit 'mainstream' any time soon.

http://rndpic.com/ [rndpic.com]

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (5, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476243)

I call "Fear mongering crap."

It is exactly this attitude that has Americans cowering in their homes while their country is being raped from inside.

Why exactly should "we" hope that these are not mainstream? Becuase "we" fear that there are all those "evil" people out there (somehwere?) to get us and try and kill us? That attitude is fabricated crap, generated from the kind of attitude present in text like this. What exactly do you mean by "high level mischief"? Please explain. Are YOU implying some specific person would/will take out the radioactive material and use it to harm people? That's a catchy implication, but not real. Who? Show me all these boogymen. Show me there are hoardes of people out there sharpening their knives to destroy civilized society. It's a bullshit lie. To me, flippant fear mongering like that is most of the problem here, not some boogyman called from thin air to support the fear-based attitude you're spreading.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476275)

Amen, brotha!

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (-1, Flamebait)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476291)

Show me there are hoardes of people out there sharpening their knives to destroy civilized society.
Even if people from within the US have to orchestrate it, these hoardes _do_/will exist. Surely you remember those paid to destroy the WTC?

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476329)

Ah, the good 'ol tactic of plugging 9-11 whenever someone says "show me this enemy."

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (5, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476397)

Ahh, the ubiquitous 9/11 homage. Within MINUTES! A bit off topic, but OK...

Specific to your point, who did paid them? Really. Go find out. Please, post it here - becuase to date, no one has tracked it down, at least that I have found. The non money trail is a big gaping hole in the investigation that didn't happen.

More to the point, who gives a shit? Let's put things into perspective:

2.4 Million people die in the US every year.
120K die in accidents
600K die of heart disease
10 times as many people die, every single year from Septicemia. Ever hear of it?

Let's not even start with numbers of civilian deaths at the hands of US troops abroad, before and after 9/11.

Fasts:
There are crazy people.
Carzy people will kill other people.
You can't stop the crazy people without becoming a totalitarian police state and taking away freedoms from everyone.

9/11 was a big deal, mostly becuase it was blown way way out of proportion. It was like 20 people. Hardly a hoarde. Hardly even a blip in the mortality of the US. It was the media and opportunistic politicians that made 9/11.

What those people did on 9/11 is exactly why fear mongering about nuclear material is so ridiculous. They did a low-tech thing, designed as a symbol, and over the next 6 years US citizens did all the rest. The vast majority of the damage caused to the US after 9/11 and because of the "9/11 mentality" happened because of Americans who were susceptible to fear and control - NOT from those people who flew the planes.

You ought to go actually read the military commisions act. See what the US has come to.

Then think hard about infant mortality in the US and compare what happens with dying infants each year to the 9/11 attack.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (3, Insightful)

E++99 (880734) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476487)

9/11 was a big deal, mostly becuase it was blown way way out of proportion. It was like 20 people. Hardly a hoarde. Hardly even a blip in the mortality of the US. It was the media and opportunistic politicians that made 9/11.

You ought to go actually read the military commisions act. See what the US has come to.

Then think hard about infant mortality in the US and compare what happens with dying infants each year to the 9/11 attack.

Huh? You asked who would want to blow up these reactors. Al Qaeda would. You don't think the membership of Al Qaeda constitutes a horde??? Why does it matter how many of them were needed for 9/11?

What exactly do you think mortality has to do with anything? Everybody dies. Not everybody is murdered. Murder is a big deal under any sane moral or legal system. Death is neutral.

And what the hell is wrong with the Military Commissions Act? It's the codification of the same Law of War that has been used by every common law nation in the last 500 years!

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (5, Interesting)

drDugan (219551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476545)

Al Qaeda? Show me Al Qaeda. Not the US-Government spun version - but actually who they are.

Yes, I do not think Al Quaeda constitutes a horde. I'm willing to be proven wrong by independently verifiable facts.

To get into the question of murder, one has to dig deeply in international policy and the Geneva Convention - which are not very sane or moral. The Geneva Convention says that if you're a big country, you can divide your people up into fighting and non-fighting groups - and when the fighting groups kill people, it's not murder. That system only works for the big countries, and the smaller groups don't buy it. Death is death, killing is killing.

If you want to go down the line of "morality" and talk about who has killed whom, the US loses that argument quickly. Do you think what the US has done in Iraq is sane?

The military commissions act makes it possible for the US government to designate ANY PERSON an enemy combatant for terrorists acts or (more importantly) aiding or interacting with any other person who acts against the interests of the US. SIC. Once designated, that person basically loses their rights, and enters a kangaroo court system that can include secret evidence, prosecutors talking privately with the judge, sealed testimony from anonymous accusers, etc etc etc. A big black fuck-you box.

As I said, you have to go read it, carefully.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (1)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476371)

Let me try to make it simple for you: the prospect of a dirty bomb going off in some major city does not look good to me. If I can think of it so can any asshole with the funds and the determination to pull it off. And one of the assholes will get lucky. There are several thousand people dead already who would disagree with your 'fear mongering crap' observation. I'm the last to get panicked, I just think that radioactivity is not meant for 'mass distribution'. There are plenty of better ways to make electricity that do not involve half lives in the decades. And to be hit over the head with a solar panel is probably lethal as well but I think that the chances of any 'badass' taking that route are quite limited.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (5, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476469)



Please don't patronize, it's unattractive.

You wrote: If I can think of it so can any asshole with the funds and the determination to pull it off. And one of the assholes will get lucky.

This is the core fallacy of fear mongering: Taking a rare or non-existent threat and treating it as credible. It turns out there are thousands of really cheap ways for small groups to cripple modern society. Criminals are really good at coming up with them, and so are think tanks the government pays to research such things. Guess what: there is no way to prevent them! But - amazingly, none of these scenarios are happening. There is a lot more to it than "I can think of it so it must be scary."

I believe radioactivity is a great way to generate electricity. The French figured this out long ago, and have the safest and cleanest energy on the planet. If engineered and maintained well, nuclear plants are safer and more environmentally friendly than any other mass power generation system.

It seems to me there are enormous, global industries working on "better ways to make electricity" that you refer to - so please enlighten us all, what are these ways you refer to? How should human society safely and efficiently produce power for all 6 Billion of us?

Perhaps, the US might start working on ways to have fewer (asshole) people in the world angry at them and wanting to blow up their cities with dirty bombs? That might be a good place to start.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0, Flamebait)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476543)

> I believe radioactivity is a great way to generate electricity.

And I don't. It's as simple as that. Spreading out radioactive materials all over the globe in an attempt to generate power when power is available in much less dangerous forms to me seems like a stupid thing to do. The sun puts about 1KW / square metre on the ground at full illumination, wind power is available in vast quantities. And yes, there are literally 100's of thousands of people involved in industries today to make power generated by these renewable sources cheaper, more reliable and more plentiful.

The French have a lot of nuclear power, that is true. They also have a pretty serious nuclear waste problem.

To take any objection against nuclear power as 'fear mongering' is a cheap way of stifling debate. If my neighbour had a baby nuclear generator in his basement I'd move. No matter how 'safe' it was said to be. Nuclear power is not 'safe' by any stretch of the (my?) imagination. Anything that needs a containment vessel with lots of shielding is not safe, period. And that's a different kind of 'not safe' than say an LPG tank. Sure, the LPG tank can go *boom* just the same, but after it does that the remainder is inert, not much more dangerous than the original tank.

Terrorism is mostly a media affair, it's a love triangle between the media, the terrorists and the politicians. Fear mongering is to artificially exaggerate the risks associated with a certain technology, and as far as I'm concerned there are serious risks associated with nuclear technology. Spreading it far and wide will give at least one of the three parties in the above mentioned triangle a hard to resist temptation. That is not a very good thing either.

One the one hand you have fear mongering, the Ostriches (sp?) are on the other end of the spectrum. To completely deny the risks of nuclear tech is not a realistic point of view, neither is a total panic about it. Somewhere in the middle lies realism, if a technology has inherent dangers or risks associated with it then you try to control it as much as you can to minimize those risks & dangers.

   

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476503)

"I just think that radioactivity is not meant for 'mass distribution'"

quick, better rip out all your smoke alarms least the terrorists get them!

This just in from the fearmongering Times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476535)

"Who? Show me all these boogymen. Show me there are hoardes of people out there sharpening their knives to destroy civilized society. It's a bullshit lie."

"
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2767252.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

Books calling for the beheading of lapsed Muslims, ordering women to remain indoors and forbidding interfaith marriage are being sold inside some of Britain's leading mosques, according to research seen by The Times.

One book, Fatawa Islamiyah, which urges the execution of apostates, was found in bookshops at Regent's Park mosque and at the huge East London mosque in Whitechapel.

The researchers found hardline material at a quarter of the 100 mosques visited during the project.
"

Of course, I have no illusion that this will in any way change your opinion. The racist and fearmongering Times conjurs illusions to scare people and spread hatred.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476271)

Voyager was powered by one, iirc.
Voyager used Anti-Matter. It's funny how a ship with a woman captain can get lost on the other side of the galaxy...

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476407)

Different Voyager, shit-wit.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476347)

i give you all of my hypothetical mod points

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (4, Funny)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476059)

Enjoy your visit from Homeland Security dude.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476081)

.cx

We've come to a low point in the world if that's really under HS's jurisdiction.

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476083)

Let's just hope he doesn't get tased!

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476073)

Maybe a large construction firm with strong Republican, and institutional connections like say the Bin Laden Group?

Re:Perfect thing to fit on a truck to ram somewher (1, Interesting)

thej1nx (763573) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476509)

*sigh*


One would have assumed that people from the nation with the biggest arsenal of nukes, would have a clue. Guess not.

What makes you think any government(USA or otherwise) would *ever* allow any significant quantities of radioactive material to be sold to just any random civilian individuals??? Are you really that retarded?

First of all, the massive oil cartel that owns the USA government(and George Bush's soul), ensures that any nuclear energy alternative gets associated with things going ka-boom without rhyme or reason.

Which is silly when you consider, that for a Chernobyl, you also have a Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster [wikipedia.org], proving that accidents are possible in any scenario if proper care is not taken. And funnily enough, the protest groups to the glee(or perhaps with sponsorship of) oil cartels, have no problems with nukes being stored in locations close by(because if they protest *that*, they will be hauled off as traitors and shipped off to Guantanamo) but if the same material is used to *help* people and provide a cheap alternative to oil, that is a big no-no.

This product, *if* it is safe enough and actually works as advertised, could have been sold to cities or even to governments(and not truck ramming terrorists) providing cheap energy alternative, but it is safe to bet that even so, the oil cartel would ensure by lobbying and controlling media, that it is never accepted by the public.

uh no (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476057)

I fail to see how this helps niggers in any way. Not newsworthy! Move along nigga, ain't shit to see here.

Propz to GNAA

Hang on a minute.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476061)

... You aren't supposed to open double A batteies?

(on the other hand though, the quadruple-A's found inside 9 volts make good subsitutes if you don't have a double or triple A handy.)(do need a conductor to fill the space though)

A lot of propaganda going on here ... (4, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476077)

Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn't like to think of its product as a "reactor."

"In fact, we prefer to call it a 'drive' or a 'battery' or a 'module' in that it's so safe," Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says.


Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor. If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb. "Digital Consumer Enablement," anyone?

"This whole idea is loony and not worthy of too much attention," Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello says. "Of course, factoring in enough cronyism, corruption and official ignorance and boosterism, it's possible the principals could make some money during the initial stages, before the crows come home to roost."

Great. Don't even consider the actual design of the thing. Not a word about what, if any problems, it might create -- just dismiss it as "loony" and chalk up anything good anyone says about it to cronyism and corruption.

Does anyone have any information about the Hyperion reactor that isn't either corporate PR or wacko fearmongering? Because it sounds interesting, and I'd like to learn more about it, but not from either of these folks, thanks.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (1)

The Lone Badger (626938) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476111)

"In fact, we prefer to call it a 'drive' or a 'battery' or a 'module' in that it's so safe," Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says. Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor. If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb. "Digital Consumer Enablement," anyone? At that size it sounds more like an atomic pile than an atomic reactor to me. There is a difference.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (5, Insightful)

arlanTLDR (1120447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476119)

Actually, it's fairly typical to rename things so they don't contain "scary" words. Like how Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) became Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Because people don't like things with the words "Nuclear" or "Reactor" anywhere close to them.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (1)

Cecil (37810) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476121)

If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb.

Yeah, no one would be silly enough to rename "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" (NMR) into "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" (MRI) despite referring to the nucleus of the cell not the nucleus of an atom, nevermind anything radioactive.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (2, Informative)

Chaset (552418) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476147)

Um... the Nuclear in NMR does refer to the nucleus of the atom, at least AFAIK. Where did you read otherwise? In fact, doesn't the thought set off "oh, wait, that can't be right" alarm in your head if you try to think of how a cell nucleus can possibly have magnetic properties?

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476187)

If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb.

Yeah, no one would be silly enough to rename "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" (NMR) into "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" (MRI) despite referring to the nucleus of the cell not the nucleus of an atom, nevermind anything radioactive.
Wrong. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance [wikipedia.org] does refer to the nucleus of an atom.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (2, Informative)

Xner (96363) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476479)

The nucleus in question when dealing with NMR is most certainly the atomic nucleus.

You might want to do some basic research before proclaiming your ignorance to the whole wide internet like that.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (4, Interesting)

PaintyThePirate (682047) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476137)

It sounds a lot like the 10MW Toshiba "nuclear battery" [wikipedia.org], which has a pretty good chance of being built [wikipedia.org].

The engineering is perfectly feasible, it's just a matter of whether or not it is cost effective (it probably is, or will be soon at the rate energy prices are rising), and whether or not people would be willing to live next to a tiny reactor (the real problem). Beyond that, it's just a matter of working through the massive bureaucracy of getting licencing from the NRC.

The notion of having a completely unmanned reactor seems like a recipe for disaster though. The Toshiba plan of keeping a few people nearby to ensure security and to monitor the supposedly fail safe systems seems safer.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476497)

The notion of having a completely unmanned reactor seems like a recipe for disaster though. The Toshiba plan of keeping a few people nearby to ensure security and to monitor the supposedly fail safe systems seems safer.
Yeah, it's not like anyone would ever dick with something like that left unattended, or anything ...

What could possibly make a more attractive terrorist target than a stationary repository for fissionable and highly radioactive materials left completely unguarded?

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476233)

Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor. If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb. "Digital Consumer Enablement," anyone?

They say it has no moving parts. So, it pretty much has to be an RTG, key word being thermal in the article. How can a fission reactor just hang out sitting there with no controls and feedback mechanisms? It would basically have to automatically, physically on an atomic level keep the chain reaction regulated, and everything in balance pretty much perfectly during its entire operating life, and every moment beyond. Sure, there are some proposed ideas for reactors which would enable automatic failsafes via neutron moderation of certain materials...

However, if there isn't enough information out there to make it clear whether they're talking about a real fissile reactor, or a big 'ol steam generating RTG, how can you hope to understand what they're up to? The little SFR write up sounds like understood it absolutely, positively wrong, and the reporter probably pulled the fission part of the article from tween his buttocks. Sounds like they're developing an RTG, and are about 35 years behind anything the Russians had accomplished.

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (1)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476501)

Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor.

You could say the same (possibly more accurately) about a AA battery. The key difference here, this one uses spoooooooky nook-yuh-ler thingamabobs, so people automatically put their fingers in their ears and go "LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU LA NUKULAR LA LA".



but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb.

We need energy, period. Until we perfect fusion, fission looks like the best we have.

That said, fission has something of a bad reputation, largely undeserved. In the US, with a decent level of regulatory oversight, only one person (Robert Peabody) has ever died as a result of a nuclear accident at a commercial facility. How many people died in US coal mines last year alone?

I would normally agree with you that renaming a technology to get around PR disasters just insults us - But in this case, if it takes renaming it to "teddy bear hug-powered" to get the completely ignorant (but vocally opinionated) masses to accept nuclear power, sign me up for all the fuzzy wuzzy snugglies we can get!

Re:A lot of propaganda going on here ... (1)

rilister (316428) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476531)

"Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor. If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb."

um, remember "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance"?

"In its early years MRI was referred to as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), but the word nuclear has been associated with ionizing radiation exposure, which is not used in an MRI, so to prevent patients from making a negative association between MRI and ionizing radiation, the word has been almost universally removed. Scientists still use the term NMR when discussing non-medical devices operating on the same principles."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MRI [wikipedia.org]

Spokesperson without a clue (3, Informative)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476087)

"Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."

Uh huh... Nuclear reactions are not chemical in nature... spokesperson without a clue.

But on a side note, am I the only one who thought of Asimov's Foundation series, when the Foundationers had nuclear reactors the size of walnuts??? [everything2.com]

Seriously, though I remember something similar made in Japan that would power a remote city in Alaska for 30 years without pollution. [adn.com]

Yay! Go Nukular!

Re:Spokesperson without a clue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476149)

Yeah, and chemicals can be far more dangerous than radiation. Batteries ARE chemical reactors. They are safe because people don't open them, and the packaging is relatively durable compared to their use. Just keep in mind Arsenic is so toxic precisely because its so similar to Phosphorus (another chemical!). Incidentally, you don't want to run into the wrong kind of Phosphorus, even though you couldn't live without the element.

Re:Spokesperson without a clue (5, Informative)

transwarp (900569) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476171)

"Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it." Uh huh... Nuclear reactions are not chemical in nature... spokesperson without a clue.
I figured that she meant the battery and was still using the metaphor, and the article's author assumed she was talking about the reactor and put it in brackets. At least, I'd rather believe a reporter made that mistake than the spokesperson for a nuclear power company.

Re:Spokesperson without a clue (1)

SciBott (1019664) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476309)

Note that "[the reactor]" is in [] which is added by the author or editor. Which in this case needs to find a new profession. The person being quoted was talking about the double-A battery at that specific period of time, not the reactor.

Small, check, safe, check, powerful, check, but... (1)

raehl (609729) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476349)

How is this thing going to dissipate its waste heat?

Put it in a bathtub?

Re:Small, check, safe, check, powerful, check, but (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476425)

How is this thing going to dissipate its waste heat? Put it in a bathtub?

Do you put your PC in a bathtub to dissipate its waste heat? Given the lack of technical information in both the article and the Hyperion site, I'm just speculating, but with the small size of the reactor it may be feasible to dissipate the heat through the air. The image in the article shows what looks to be a heat sink (finned material) between the inner core and the outer casing. Perhaps that filled with mineral oil or antifreeze would be enough to spread the sufficiently heat to the outer stainless steel casing for dispersal through the air?

Re:Spokesperson without a clue (1)

thsths (31372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476431)

> "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."

> Uh huh... Nuclear reactions are not chemical in nature... spokesperson without a clue.

Exactly. The main difference is of course that if you do open an AA battery by mistake, nothing bad happens. The more recent designs aren't even chemically toxic, so there is really nothing to worry about. Whereas when you open the "nuclear battery", you are immediately greeted by a toxic dose of plutonium, heat that would kill anything, a high amount of radiation and other dangerous things. It is all very nice to put a marketing spin on it, but it will still kill you.

Re:Spokesperson without a clue (5, Funny)

joaommp (685612) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476461)

Spokesman:

"Nuclear reactors don't kill people.
People who open nuclear reactors kill people."

Re:Spokesperson without a clue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476587)

"Nuclear reactors don't kill people. Open holes in nuclear reactors kill people."

Chemical reaction? (1)

sincewhen (640526) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476093)

it does its chemical thing

I didn't think that radioactive decay was classed as "chemical."
Let's hope this spokewoman is PR and not Engineering.

Terrorism aside, this could be useful ... (1)

grrrl (110084) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476099)

Actually I think it's pretty interesting, and forward thinking - what about having something like this to power always-on equipment? Eg data centres etc in major tech hubs?

The first thing I thought of though was straight out of Stephen King's Dark Tower series (which I'm reading atm) - atomic slugs powering random pieces of equipment all over the place... North Central Positronics anyone?

(And yeah, terrorism and those issues really suck ass, I hate that ideas like this are inherently a security risk not by design but by ASSHOLES).

Chemical Thing (1, Flamebait)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476103)

Anyone else find this quote troubling: "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."'

A chemical reaction is not a nuclear reaction. I think that any company that doesn't understand this difference shouldn't really be in the business of making portable nuclear reactors.

I'm sure people here will have any number of criticisms to the idea of a portable nuclear reactor, but it's actually a very old concept. The arctic early-warning radar systems back in the cold war days had truck-sized nuclear reactors developed for them.

Re:Chemical Thing (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476273)

The words in brackets were inserted by the reporter and are not the actual words of the company representative. Chances are, the company rep said "it" (referring to the battery, which is chemically based) and the reporter helpfully "clarified" the pronoun.

Re:Chemical Thing (1)

dasunt (249686) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476369)

I think they know the difference. Specifically the difference between "chemical" (which doesn't scare the public as badly) and "radioactive fission" (which scares the bejebus out of the public). :p

Re:Chemical Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476463)

Anyone else find this quote troubling: "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."'
Yep, the first mental image I had when I read that was a flashback to all those childhood toys that got manked up by leaky old AA alkalines.

Then the second image was remembering my father trying to get a bit more life out of the old batteries by putting them in the oven.. I hope he's not planning on getting one of these.

Energy vs Power (2)

Oooskar (806935) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476107)

The sentence "it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy" doesn't parse. Does it produce 27 megawatts for 1 ns? It seems most people are good at making distinctions between speed and distance. Why is power vs. energy so hard?

Re:Energy vs Power (2, Informative)

Neo Quietus (1102313) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476183)

Watts is joules per second, so saying "it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy" means that if you totaled up all the energy released in a single second by this reactor it would total to 27 megajoules. The sentence parses fine as is: it simply means that this thing produces 27 megajoules a second, forever. As a more concrete example (with smaller numbers) saying that a lightbulb "will consume 60 watts of electrical energy" is just another way of saying "it's a 60 watt bulb."

Re:Energy vs Power (0, Troll)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476427)

Um, no; "joules per second" is a rate, which doesn't imply a time interval. A bullet coming out of a gun might go 600 miles per hour, but that doesn't mean that it covers 600 miles worth of distance. Likewise, I've worked on megawatt lasers that were a lot smaller than you might expect, because they only delivered a megawatt for a very small fraction of a second. A laser that delivered a million watts for a full second would be a big beast indeed.

Without another time term to get from a rate to a quantity, you have no idea whether '27 megawatts' is for a picosecond, a second, ten minutes, or from now until the heat death of the Universe.

If you wanted to (and I'm not going to do it out), you could easily calculate the maximum duration of a 27MW pulse into a bathtub-sized container of water, before you'd boil the water. (Or do the same thing with some other coolant medium; sodium or lead or what have you.)

Re:Energy vs Power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476551)

Don't be a pedantic idiot; it's a "power the home" application so the time interval is "continuously" at least on a human scale... ie replace no more often than every few months.

Re:Energy vs Power (1)

Neo Quietus (1102313) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476589)

Okay, while the word "watts" doesn't imply a time interval, the fact that it's supposed to be a replacement for a conventional power station implies that it will run for a long time at a wattage X, and it's reasonable to assume that the wattage they quoted (27 megawatts) is the wattage that the device is supposed to produce over this long timespan. In other-words, given the context of the sentence the most reasonable parsing of the sentence "it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy" would be that the device produces 27 megawatts over a long period of time.

The it's easier to see how the sentence parses if you replace "thermal energy" with "heat"; the sentence then becomes "it would produce 27 megawatts worth of heat", which given the context makes perfect sense.

Re:Energy vs Power (1)

bmgoau (801508) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476203)

A watt is the number of joules per second. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watt [wikipedia.org]

Re:Energy vs Power (1)

Oooskar (806935) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476357)

I am well aware energy is measured in Joules. The sentence quantifies an amount of energy in Watts (27 MW worth of energy). More correct would be to say that it produces "27 MW of thermal power". Or that it produces 1.2 TWh of thermal energy during its life of 5 years.

Re:Energy vs Power (1)

computer_chacham (111723) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476453)

While "thermal power" would have been a bit better, saying thermal energy is still correct I think--they're specifying what sort of energy will be available. It's like saying "My pump can handle 27 liters/sec of water."

Re:Energy vs Power (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476227)

Wow, your attempt at mocking technical speak turned awfully bad. Power is measured in Watts. Energy in Joules. The reactor is 27 MW, that is 27 MJ per second (for a duration of five years, according to the article, but I would think an istope generator like this one would have a declining power rate over time). You're the one confusing energy and power here.

Re:Energy vs Power (4, Funny)

gijoel (628142) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476439)

Yeah, but in fairness to them it can do the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs. That's not something your everyday reactor can do.

Fakey McFake (2, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476127)

Jeez, what an obvious fake. This is yet another one of those pie-in-the-sky flying car type projects. Some guy just has an idea and he's trolling for investors with more money than brains. No idea why Slashdot helps these types.

Re:Fakey McFake (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476263)

What was your first clue, the fact that the power cable coming out would have to be half the diameter of the device to power 25,000 homes? I don't care if you can fit a fusion reactor in a match box you still have to have a means of transfering the power in a practical form. That's one dense source of power 27 megawatts from a hot tub sized reactor. I'll believe a flying car first.

Re:Fakey McFake (1)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476375)

Although the summary of the article is unclear, TFA indicates that this thing only generates the heat. You still need a water source and turbine (or something else that can convert heat to electricity). So no power cable is necessary (on their end).

Re:Fakey McFake (5, Informative)

PaintyThePirate (682047) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476381)

What was your first clue, the fact that the power cable coming out would have to be half the diameter of the device to power 25,000 homes?
Leave the electrical engineering [wikipedia.org] to the electrical engineers. You also missed the crucial fact that electricity does not come out of a reactor, heat does. To get electricity, you have to use the heat on some fluid to drive a turbine. The turbine obviously would not be inside this "washing machine".

It is also pretty apparent that you've never seen a nuclear reactor. A reactor itself is pretty small compared to the overall size of a plant. It's the cooling loops, turbines, myriad of control and power equipment, and containment structure that take up space.

Why can't we scale this down? (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476131)

Despite it's 'small' size the company that is planning to develop the product (Hyperion Power Generation), claims it could power up to 25,000 homes.


Why don't they make one that's much smaller and could power a single home, then sell them to homeowners. I'd love to live off the grid and have my power not dependent on a system of under-maintained wires.

If you can get 25,000 homes off a hot-tub sized unit, how about one the size of my electric meter box for one family? Remove electric meter, hook up reactor "battery" where it was. Easy and uncomplicated installation.

Re:Why can't we scale this down? (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476185)

because selling nuclear devices to individuals invokes all sorts of bad juju from the NRC and the DoHS

Re:Why can't we scale this down? (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476215)

Isn't there a program where small portable nuclear reactors ( larger than a hot tub) are placed in poor/3rd world regions (think sub-Saharan Africa) to provide power in areas there. I seem to remember those being billed as sealed "black-box style" units that didn't require maintenance, either. I see no difference to this as far as risks go.

Re:Why can't we scale this down? (1)

or-switch (1118153) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476251)

Because you still have to hook it to a steam turbine (again, the battery analogy fails badly). I suppose you could build a home-sized steam turbine generator but so much could go wrong with such a thing and you'd have to maintain it. Industrial sized turbine generators are more efficient than a home generator could be, and this could hook into existing power grids. Besides, if you bought a personal one you're also going to have to pay, personally, for the waste disposal. And lots of single-family-sized reactors will produce way more waste (because of the casing) over time than single units powering more homes. One hotub sized units or 25,000 walnut sized ones?

Re:Why can't we scale this down? (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476569)

Because you still have to hook it to a steam turbine (again, the battery analogy fails badly).

Yeah, that was bothering me, too. I was having trouble seeing how one gets electrical power with no moving parts without chemicals being involved, but I felt too lazy too see if the PR people explained it in TFA.

Thermal power != electricity (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476157)

So the hot-tub sized device cranks out many MW of thermal power. How big is the turbine/generator set that makes this into electricity? Not much point in just half a system.

Error in summary (4, Informative)

svunt (916464) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476209)

I'm pretty sure the person editing this made a big cockup when they changed "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug it in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it." The "it" obviously refers to the Double-A battery, and whoever edited the copy got it wrong.

Power output vs cooling (1)

mach1980 (1114097) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476211)

27 MW of power and not dependent on any external cooling system???

This seems to be the perfect (and cool) vulcano generator as it most likely would turn its immidiate surroundings into molten rock if not cooled by external means.

Late 2012 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476229)

If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors.
Say, perhaps, by December 12?

'dirty' bombs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476245)

here in germany politicians don't get tired to tell us the story about the dangers of dirty bombs. I'm pretty sure american politicians don't get tired either.
Could these very same politicians please tell me why on earth we should agree to distribute 4000 of these modules all over the country?

This is wierd (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476259)

Wierd. First, it's not a "nuclear battery". Those have been around since the 1950s, and they typically have quite modest power output, from a few watts to a few hundred watts. They're just some radioactive material decaying at its normal rate; they don't use a chain reaction. If this thing is supposed to produce 27MW, it has to be a real nuclear reactor.

And it is. Here's the patent application [uspto.gov], out of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The basic idea is this: "This present invention achieves control by utilizing the properties of a fissile metal hydride as a self-contained nuclear fuel and neutron energy moderator. If the physical size, fissile metal content and enrichment are appropriately selected, the metal will absorb ambient hydrogen, which moderates the neutron energies so that nuclear fission criticality is achieved. The temperature will then be increased by the fission reactions until the dissociation pressure of the hydrogen for that temperature is greater than the ambient pressure of the hydrogen, at which point the hydrogen dissociates from the hydride and the source becomes sub-critical." So that's the way it self-regulates. It's supposed to operate at a constant temperature; if you remove heat with a working fluid, it produces more heat; if you don't, it stabilizes at its normal operating temperature. It's a uranium reactor, using 5% enriched uranium. Runs at 350C to 800C. Uses heat pipes to get the heat out to a working fluid, probably water, used to make steam and drive a turbine.

It's not clear if this is a workable design. There's no prototype. But it's at least plausible. It's not a totally new idea; the TRIGA [ga.com] reactors are self-regulating in a somewhat similar fashion.

The "Los Alamos Study Group" that made critical comments has nothing to do with Los Alamos National Laboratories. Their director "worked as a transportation planner, natural foods manufacturing entrepreneur, high school teacher, hazardous waste investigator, and contaminant hydrologist." [lasg.org]

I had to look at the company's site (4, Funny)

WoTG (610710) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476277)

There is literally a 1 page website setup for the company at HyperionPowerGeneration.com.

"Invented at Los Alamos: Patent Pending".

Uh huh. I'm totally looking forward to placing my order.

BTW: I see no mention of hot-tub sizes on the website... though, I didn't read too carefully. They claim to be about 30% cheaper than current liquid moderated reactors.

Making Dr. Strangelove proud (1)

xPsi (851544) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476287)

The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. It's shaped like a sake cup, filled with a uranium hydride core and surrounded by a hydrogen atmosphere. Encase it in concrete, truck it to a site, bury it underground, hook it up to a steam turbine and, voila, one would generate enough electricity to power a 25,000-home community for at least five years
A-Recent-Robert-Zemeckis-Film Cluster of those sounds ideally suited for a post apocalyptic bunker. You name it: Alpha Complex, Vault 13, Dr. Strangelove's wet dream [filmsite.org]:


Strangelove: I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy...heh, heh...(He rolls his wheelchair forward into the light) at the bottom of ah...some of our deeper mineshafts. Radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep, and in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in drilling space could easily be provided.
President: How long would you have to stay down there?
Strangelove: ...I would think that uh, possibly uh...one hundred years...It would not be difficult Mein Fuehrer! Nuclear reactors could, heh...I'm sorry, Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plant life. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country, but I would guess that dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.
President: Well, I, I would hate to have to decide...who stays up and...who goes down.

Teach me to read the article first (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476307)

It's nothing more than a nuclear pile. Where's the invention? Inject water around mass of uranium, produces steam=power. It's a neighborhood uranium based nuke plant. The concept has been around in one form or another for decades just no one was stupid enough to build a bunch of them and scatter them across the country. It's hard enough to keep track of nuclear material as it is.

The sum of all fears (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476319)

So now you do not have to smuggle a nuclear bomb in a vending machine. Instead, just detonate a small conventional explosive next to this bath tub and you will probably render all 27000 homes powered by this thing unlivable. You can even set a second charge to fashion a kind of thermobaric bomb that detonates hydrogen from the reactor to ensure proper dispersal of radioactive waste.

Re:The sum of all fears (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476481)

It's supposed to be installed 100ft underground, making it fairly difficult to reach with a conventional explosive. And the idea is to install it in places where it's too hard to get power from the grid, so there would be little value in turning it into a dirty bomb because there wouldn't be much of value to destroy.

dom

How is it safe? (2, Insightful)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476365)

There were nice plans of a pretty safe reactor: a core that is too subcritical to sustain the reaction by itself, plus a mirror shield lowered around it, reflecting neutrons back into the core, increasing their density to sustain the reaction. How deep the shield is lowered decides upon how much power is drawn, raising it stops the reaction, and if raising mechanism was to fail for any reason, the first thing to melt would be said shield (made from material of melting temperature much lower than the core), stopping the reaction by ceasing to reflect neutrons back into the core.

In case of this thing, if the turbine stops, if the coolant circuit goes empty for any reason, I can't see how this could be stopped if it starts melting.

Not the Holy Grail, but close (5, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476389)

Research into the unusual properties of uranium hydride has been going on for a long time. (In fact, one application that was investigated was tritium extraction.) For the people still banging on about batteries who didn't read TFA, this idea is exactly like a battery in that energy is extracted on demand, i.e. simply removing heat from the device cools it down, which causes the hydrogen to reform the hydride, which makes the reactor critical, which produces more heat. It is the overall packaging concept, nothing to do with chemical versus nuclear. The Toshiba packaged reactor design was ingenious, but depended on mechanical systems and, having much more thermal capacity and a slower reaction time, was very dependent on coolant circulation. This design is an on-demand heat source.

For me, the sad thing about alternative energy is the way that all the technologies compete instead of cooperating. Different parts of the world demand different approaches and different mixes. For instance, as a thermal generator this reactor could usefully complement thermal solar arrays, so that (simplifying) the array heats the fluid in the day and the reactor heats it at night. A conventional nuclear reactor would not work like that because it has to be too big, i.e. it is out of scale compared to the solar source. If the waste heat could be used for area heating, it would work well in far Northern latitudes where heating demand is greater than power demand.

I can't help but think that this is one case where serious joined up thinking is required. If the US Government can spend 0.6% of the Federal budget on NASA, which is speculative research, isn't it worth spending 0.6% on safe alternative nuclear reactors rather than driving up the price of corn? Rather than try and substitute oil with uneconomic ethanol, why not try to substitute oil used for heating with heat from nuclear sources? The effect would be the same. A policy that oil should only be used for transportation, and that vehicle efficiency should be progressively increased, would reduce dependence on the Middle East just as quickly, or quicker, than pork barrel farm ethanol projects, and would have more long term sustainability.

The real market for these... (2, Interesting)

Doppler00 (534739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476393)

I highly doubt they are going to sell these to power "25,000" homes. It's more likely they will be purchased by city governments, military, or large corporations that require continuous power. Just imagine if instead of having to install a massive diesel generator you could just have your critical systems powered continuously from this nuclear device and still have the grid power available if you need it.

Power density? (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476419)

Ok, so these first, well designed from top notch materials, ones are fairly safe.

What happens when companies start mass-producing these, ala lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries. How much more dense is the stored power in these if something cheap breaks and decides to let it out...

So, can I take one on a plane? :P

inefficient (1)

m2943 (1140797) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476437)

This sounds like a terribly inefficient and wasteful use of nuclear fuel; there are far more efficient nuclear reactors.

Re:inefficient (1)

WIAKywbfatw (307557) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476523)

Your average nuclear reactor is not exactly portable. This sort of device, if it's all that it's claimed to be, is just that, and that is its strength.

Imagine how useful this sort of thing could be, in remote areas where there aren't power grids to tap into, helping emergency services in disaster recovery zones, etc, etc.

No, you wouldn't use it to power conventional homes in convential situations but you could use it to do a whole bunch of things that would otherwise be more difficult, or perhaps even impossible, to acheive.

Breaking news... (1)

JavaBear (9872) | more than 6 years ago | (#21476467)

This is just in; Outahere, a small suburb between Middle and Nowhere, have mysteriously vanished from the face of the Earth...

parking at yucca? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21476473)

what happens after 5 years of operation in a neighborhood, or otherwise, environment? declining available power aside, did they reserve a table at yucca? perhaps an offshore recycling program in the works, secondary markets and whatnot?
i like the idea of available power, but this seems a shortsighted scheme.
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