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Power Science

Toshiba Builds Ultra-Small Nuclear Reactor 683

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-reactor-in-every-home dept.
DeusExCalamus writes "Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs."
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Toshiba Builds Ultra-Small Nuclear Reactor

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  • Yup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FictionPimp (712802) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @07:59AM (#21763330) Homepage
    I'm sure the US government would have no problem with people buying these, no problem at all.
  • Self contained (Score:4, Insightful)

    by olman (127310) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:08AM (#21763402)
    I wonder if their cost/kWh figures includes Greenpeace terror campaign against nuclear anything..
  • Re:A slogan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by randuev (1032770) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:11AM (#21763434)
    there's no cleaner way to generate electricity than nuclear. shame that brainwashing of oil pushing pimps have been so successful.
  • Re:Lifetime cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by close_wait (697035) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:12AM (#21763440)
    That should be $3.5M. A lot cheaper than students.
  • Re:A slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cozziewozzie (344246) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:18AM (#21763508)
    There are many cleaner ways to generate electricity than nuclear. Hydro, geothermal, tidal and wave, wind and solar energy are all cleaner.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:22AM (#21763532)
    Yes, because the people that design these things are morons and make them easily openable with tools that a kid can find laying around the house or garage. And what makes you think it would be in an accessible place, for starters? FFS, why do people always assume everything is either designed or run by complete idiots?
  • Re:Eh... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gambolt (1146363) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:24AM (#21763552)
    I don't buy it.

    There are two possible explanations for why middle eastern nations might want nuclear technology. One is that they want to blow us up. The other is that there are vast areas of their counties that don't have electricity. We accuse them of wanting to destroy the planet and we're the ones who ordered 300 new coal plants this year, knowing that industrial coal is the single largest contributer to greenhouse emissions. We should be helping Iran build nuclear power plants, not encouraging them to keep burning oil for power when peak oil and global warming are looming in the future.

  • Re:A slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aurispector (530273) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:29AM (#21763598)
    Sure, but there are plenty of areas where none of the above apply. I live in an area where that is not near any water, has only intermittent sun and wind so another power source is necessary. Geothermal looks great on paper but AFAIK there are still tech barriers involved. Nuke power is certainly better to coal or oil/gas. Coal spews more heavy metals and radioactive material into the atmosphere than nukes ever did. With fossil fuels the mess gets spread all over the planet, with nukes it all stays in one place.
    If you took all the toxins, etc., from coal and condensed them on one place, the greens would have a fit no matter where you tried to bury it.

    Besides, did you turn YOUR air conditioner off last summer?

    Anyway, this will never fly in the US - I can guarantee that the big utilities will lobby congress and FUD it to death.
  • Moon or mars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:38AM (#21763662) Journal
    Something along this design could be used on the moon or mars. It would be nice to have guarenteed power there with 40 years lifespan. But it would be nice to see MW, rather than KWs.
  • Re:Eh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by s20451 (410424) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:43AM (#21763708) Journal
    I broadly agree with your sentiment, if the Iranians' wish for civilian nuclear power was genuine. But the UN has already offered to supply them with all the fuel they need for their reactors, as long as they shut down their enrichment program. Iran has so far refused to accept this offer, and enrichment is the only important technology that nuclear power has in common with nuclear weapons. So it's unclear what their true intentions are.
  • Are you kidding? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by professorguy (1108737) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:54AM (#21763802)
    Why don't you come out to my house and install your solar panels on my roof? I'm sure it will be no problem that they are under a few feet of snow for 4 months a year. Or that we get 50 sunny days (on average) a year, half of which are when we have snow. Or that at 44 degrees north, even at the solstice at high noon we have low wattage/area.

    Gee, I guess I'll be selling all my extra power to the grid.

    I love it when someone from Arizona tells me that solar power is going to solve all my power problems here in northern New Hampshire.

  • Re:A slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FireFury03 (653718) <`slashdot' `at' `nexusuk.org'> on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:54AM (#21763804) Homepage
    There are many cleaner ways to generate electricity than nuclear. Hydro, geothermal, tidal and wave, wind and solar energy are all cleaner.

    Depends how you define "clean" - hydro power is usually environmentally quite damaging. Tidal power can also be quite damaging if done inappropriately (I'll point at the proposed Severn Tidal Barrage as an example of how do do a lot of damage to the environment through harnessing the tides). Thermal solar based systems are probably pretty clean, but photovoltaic systems use quite a lot of rather nasty chemicals in their manufacture which must be handled carefully (kind of like fission products in fact...)
  • Re:Eh... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:55AM (#21763808)
    That works both ways. Imagine being an American and being told that you would have to rely on the Iranians to supply you with the fuel to run your nuclear reactors.

    Oh wait ... oil ...
  • Re:A slogan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Telvin_3d (855514) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:14AM (#21763982)
    And all that also ignores the realities of the location. Hydro, tidal and wave all have the prerequisite of large bodies of water. Wind needs a location with a reliable breeze. Solar power isn't particularly efficient in many areas that suffer from lots of cloud cover and rain, or long winter months.

    I think on of the biggest problems with the environmental movement (or at least their PR) is that they seem more than happy to pursue perfect solutions at the expense of good solutions.
  • Re:Lifetime cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kestasjk (933987) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:19AM (#21764026) Homepage
    The cost of decommissioning is actually factored in to the electricity price, as anyone who's not a rabid anti-nuclear fanatic would assume.
  • by westlake (615356) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:19AM (#21764032)
    ] wouldn't. I'd rather tune down my power consumption by a magnitude and switch to solar energy or something. I don't think this will fly.

    Temperatures this past summer held in the mid nineties with 80% humidity. Winters can be just as brutal with lows near zero and winds gusting to fifty. You are going to find very tough to lower your power consumption "by an order of magnitude" under those conditions. There are no easy or obvious alternatives for the neighborhood, the nursing home, the single family residence.

  • Re:A slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:23AM (#21764078) Homepage Journal
    It's definitely greener than nuclear, but we shouldn't argue about what's the greenest, as long as it's green

    Not necessarily. I've seen reports that some geothermal plants are plagued with stuff like sulfer and heavy metal releases.

    If you're in a spot where the Earth is conducive to it, the technology has been licked.

    Then you use it where it makes sense. Meanwhile what are the rest of us in the world supposed to use?

    Oh, and it's not in your post, but hydroelectric(Dams) actually do have some rather serious enviromental concerns [bbc.co.uk]...
  • Re:A slogan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by innerweb (721995) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:25AM (#21764110)

    Whether or not these are *greener* is open to debate. They all have serious consequences as well. Some eat of land, removing it from its natural form and use. Some flood large areas of land, again destroying its natural use, and destroying the original aquatic use. They all modify the area in which they are used. Geothermal is probably the one with the least known consequences of all, but I am not holding my breath once we start dealing with leaks in a geothermal system at its lowest points. There is already some evidence that geothermal systems may be related to seismic issues.

    So, nuclear has a radioactivity issue. So does sunlight, microwave ovens, televisions, coal burning, X-Rays, and many more items/activities in daily life. The radioactive portion of the nuclear fuel system is not that scary. Where we put it and what we do with it afterwards is the real issue. Chernobyl and other incidents are all based on very large designs that were not well thought through or not managed correctly. And, for all the damage they have done, they have not done as much damage as a coal fired plant will in its life time.

    As it seems to be with almost everything, moderation in use of many different types (used where they are the *best* local solution) seems to be key.

    InnerWeb

  • by whoda (569082) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:26AM (#21764128) Homepage
    10 years ago, this article would have abounded with threads on how cool this is, and "I wonder if you could make a Beowulf cluster of those."

    Now, it's all, nuclear is bad, nuclear is evil because "The terrorists might get it".

    Listen to yourselves. You've eaten the terrorist propaganda the government has been feeding you, AND YOU LOVE IT.
    "We can't do this because it might help the terrorists."
    "Yeah, that's cool, but what about the terrorists?"
    "If it weren't for terrorists, this would be awesome."

    George Bush loves you guys, he's got you on his side and you don't even realize it.

  • Re:A slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FireFury03 (653718) <`slashdot' `at' `nexusuk.org'> on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:38AM (#21764270) Homepage
    I think on of the biggest problems with the environmental movement (or at least their PR) is that they seem more than happy to pursue perfect solutions at the expense of good solutions.

    I agree entirely. Although the other problem seems to be that they take a solution that might be more or less perfect, given perfect conditions/location and push it so hard they end up putting it in conditions/locations where it either doesn't work or causes a lot of damage. I'm all for installing in "renewable" power generation systems where appropriate, but I also recognise that they are often not appropriate and that fission is a pretty good solution (with appropriate handling and reprocessing facilities for the spent fuel).

    Also, whilst I can forgive the general public for overreacting based on misinformation (e.g. the "nuclear is bad" attitude caused by its association with nuclear weapons, Chernobyl, etc.), it seems that the big environmental groups who attract the media's attention are often just as badly informed. For example, Greenpeace is opposed to ITER and other fusion research, stating that it is dangerous, a waste of money and that it should be spent on renewables instead. So they seem to not want research into a technology that could producer cleaner (although not completely clean) energy. Yes, we may never get useful power out of fusion reactors, but we won't know until we try - I for one am hopeful.
  • Re:Eh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coolGuyZak (844482) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:40AM (#21764296)

    They may view it as a loss of sovereignty regarding power generation. My guess is that Iran, as a member of OPEC, is well-aware of what can go wrong when you depend upon other countries for energy.

    Or nukes. Obviously, MAD is just effective now as during the cold war.

  • Re:Fuel (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pumpkin Roll (839469) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:57AM (#21764580)
    I believe the linked article is referring to the 4S design http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_4S [wikipedia.org], at least the picture is the same one I've seen in 4S presentations. This is the same reactor which the residents of Galena, Alaska are pursuing.

    Following the external links in the wikipedia article, you can find that this reactor is still fueled by uranium, although it is in a metal alloy form. That's in contrast with the typical ceramics (uranium dioxide) which is used in most light water reactors in the world. We do have experience with metallic fuels, but not nearly as much as with UO_2.

    One other unique aspect of this reactor: it uses liquid sodium for cooling. Most light water reactors use water, not surprisingly, as their moderator and coolant. People have experimented with liquid sodium as a coolant in the past, and are continuing to research advanced "Generation IV" reactors which could use liquid sodium. I believe the main challenges in doing something like this is not the nuclear design (figuring out how many neutrons are needed) but mitigating practical issues such as corrosion.

    About the lithium, the article says that it is used for control purposes. In other words, the lithium is absorbing neutrons, while the fuel is producing them.

  • by KenRH (265139) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:04AM (#21764664)

    I love it when someone from Arizona tells me that solar power is going to solve all my power problems here in northern New Hampshire.

    When everyone in Arizona gets solar power (and feeds the excess back to the grid) there will be more energy total avaliable that you get get from the grid.
  • by cozziewozzie (344246) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:15AM (#21764802)

    When the CO2 was captured isn't really relevant -- there's no real difference between burning trees and releasing X tons of CO2 and leaving those trees on the ground, with the CO2 captured, and instead burning enough coal and oil to release the same tons of CO2. All that really matters is the global production of CO2 compared to the global uptake of CO2.


    If you replace cut trees with new ones, as is the case is most of Europe, and probably other places too, then a part of this CO2 is spent on growing new trees, so the effect is far less damaging than coal.
  • by hypnagogue (700024) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:48AM (#21765190)
    "Trees on the ground" are still part of the carbon cycle. After a tree falls, fungus and bacteria get to work breaking down all that cellulose, and all the carbon that tree absorbed during life gets re-released into the atmosphere.

    The only way to use trees for carbon sequestration is to cut them down and build houses out of them. Seems like you should earn carbon credits when you buy lumber.
  • by ultranova (717540) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:49AM (#21765212)

    When the CO2 was captured isn't really relevant -- there's no real difference between burning trees and releasing X tons of CO2 and leaving those trees on the ground, with the CO2 captured, and instead burning enough coal and oil to release the same tons of CO2.

    Wrong. If you burn the trees, the patch of land they grew on is now empty, so more trees will grow there, sucking up the CO2 you released from burning the previous patch. On the other hand, if you burn coal, the land is still occupied by the trees, and doesn't have room for more, so the CO2 isn't going to be reabsorbed.

    All that really matters is the global production of CO2 compared to the global uptake of CO2.

    Yes, and the uptake differs in these two cases.

  • by anorlunda (311253) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:05AM (#21765434) Homepage
    There were a number of building size reactor designs proposed in the 1980s.

    I once worked for a company that designed an intrinsically safe urban reactor designed to make hot water. We had convinced the city of Helsinki to buy it and were within hours of signing the contract when the Chernobyl Reactor accident occurred. Helsinki would have used it as a district heating plant big enough to heat all the buildings in the city.

    Nuclear reactors are much better at making hot water than they are at making electricity. Heating is a major consumer of energy in many locations. Therefore, replacing a fossil fuel heat source with a nuclear heat source is more beneficial to the environment than replacing an electric power generator. There are other applications, aluminum smelting for example, that need copious quantities of heat, not electricity per se.

  • by Stefanwulf (1032430) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:26AM (#21765740)
    To nitpick, by taking your second option and leaving the trees in the ground instead of burning them, you would theoretically have a higher rate of CO2 uptake, which would make a difference.
  • by afxgrin (208686) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:34AM (#21765864)
    WTF?!? Barely anyone here is using the terrorist excuse. There's no group think of fear regarding terrorist uses. But wouldn't you be reluctant to automatically think that micro-reactors are a good thing? You can't see anything possibly wrong with this otherwise?
  • Re:A slogan (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mccabem (44513) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @01:04PM (#21767054)

    It's definitely greener than nuclear, but we shouldn't argue about what's the greenest, as long as it's green

    Not necessarily. I've seen reports that some geothermal plants are plagued with stuff like sulfer and heavy metal releases.


    Perhaps it wasn't your intent, but that smells like FUD.

    With references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_energy#Disadvantages [wikipedia.org]

    I side with the OP - definitely not worth arguing about.

    (Yes, worth being aware of tho.)

    -Matt
  • by HPNpilot (735362) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @01:12PM (#21767170) Homepage
    Any nuclear reactor, by definition, must use radioactive material. This material can be used to make a "dirty" bomb, thus, all such material is highly regulated by the US Government. Some apartment building will NOT be allowed to have one of these. The security that would be required would price it right out of the market. Perhaps one could be built under the police department in a good sized city?

    One could make a logical argument regarding the true danger posed by a dirty bomb, but the US Government seems to have completely abandoned logic as a basis for any of their actions.

    The Islamists of the Middle East, who have the largest share of the world oil reserves, seem to have conveniently made it very difficult to get approval for their main energy competitor. In the end we may come to understand that their objective is financial rather than ideological.
  • Re:Self contained (Score:2, Insightful)

    by e-scetic (1003976) * on Thursday December 20, 2007 @02:02PM (#21768044)

    I sincerely hope you're joking...but I know many aren't.

    Since when does Greenpeace have terror campaigns? Hanging banners from buildings and bridges, running weenie dinghies around motherf*cker-sized warships, disrupting whaling, fishing and toxic waste dumping, all without violence? That's terror?

    I've known since 9/11 that before long the word terror will come to include ANYTHING at all that involves protest or resistance, peaceful or otherwise, and even political or ideological difference, but do you have to encourage it?

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @05:00PM (#21771204)
    oh if only it was that easy.

  • by rtechie (244489) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @07:15PM (#21773134)

    Reactors don't scale down very well. The surface area (through which you lose neutrons) goes down slower than the volume (which creates the neutrons). Anything below a Fermi-1 size reactor, you need enriched uranium ($$$$$$). For a car-sized reactor, you need highly enriched uranium ($$$$$$$$$$$). That's not only expensive as heck, but a bomb-maker's dream. LIthium as a reflector helps some, but not al that much, and has its downside too.
    Utter nonsense. There are nuclear-powered wristwatches. The nuclear-powered pacemaker, which was safe enough to IMPLANT IN PEOPLE'S CHESTS, has been around for 40 years. Yes, they require relatively expensive fuel. Weighed against it's power density and longevity, enriched uranium is fairly cheap. Plutonium, like they used in the pacemakers, *IS* quite expensive. But even plutonium isn't that expensive given it's power density. The lithium-oxide batteries that replaced plutonium in pacemakers cost nearly 10X as much in adjusted dollars.

    You need at least a couple skilled engineers, not to mention a few guards, to deploy a power station.
    Nonsense. You can make a nuclear power system that as easy to use as a AA battery. Sure, it's wildly inefficient, but you were talking about ease of use.

    A small reactor, especially one without a thick containment, is going to be easy pickings for terrorists. A thick containment dome is surprisingly expensive, making the alleged cheapness of the basic reactor quite irrelevant.
    Really, why? Terrorists HAVE attacked nuclear power plants, most notably the Chechens in Russia. The only people that have ever used a "dirty bomb" have been the Chechens. If nuclear power plants are such great targets, why aren't the Chechens attacking them NOW? Attacking Russian nuclear facilities has not proven to be anywhere near as successful a tactic as attacking civilians so they've stopped.

    The terrorist scenario has played out in Russia and it's a non-issue.

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