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Power Science

Toshiba Builds Ultra-Small Nuclear Reactor 683

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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  • Lifetime cost (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tomalpha ( 746163 ) * on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:01AM (#21763356)
    40 years x 365 days x 24 hours x 200kW x $0.05 = $3.5bn

    Ok, so I guess it wouldn't run at full capacity all of the time, but even if you half it, or quarter it, it's still a big number.

    Slightly more silly: if you were to use the MIT students from the previous article [] and you assumed they worked 24 hours a day to produce 200kW, and you paid them $10 an hour you'd need 1600 of them and it would cost $5.8bn over the same time period.

    I guess that's why we have nuclear power.
  • Fuel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ChowRiit ( 939581 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:07AM (#21763394)
    How are they planning on fuelling these reactors? I somewhat doubt, with current paranoia about terrorist "dirty bombs", that they'll be willing to use uranium, which seems to me to somewhat defeat the point of a nuclear reactor...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:13AM (#21763446)
    They seem to have been able to shrink the reactor because they use lithium. Just the other day there was an article on /. about scientists with a revolutionary new battery technology that would increase the capacity of batteries many fold. It used lithium. Lithium seems to be a bit of a hot item now and in the future.

    Lithium isn't particularly rare, it is the 33rd most abundant element on the earth. [] On the other hand, I can't see it getting cheaper. I wonder if this is a good time to buy shares in companies that produce it?
  • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:14AM (#21763464)
    Lots of advocates for solar/wind/other renewables oppose using nuclear power to help against global warming because "They come in only one size: Extra large". This one pretty much mitigates that argument. Of course, Toshiba has done this before, with the Galena project []...looks like they are really pushing miniaturization of nukes.
  • Re:Sony (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:30AM (#21763606)
    Now, now, I'm sure they replace it without a hassle. It's all in your warranty.

    No, why should they be liable for the collateral damage? You get a new reactor, dammit, greedy bastards those customers...
  • Re:A slogan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:30AM (#21763608)
    but are inconsistent and require large land area's worth of stuff, to generate the same mount of power as just one of those little nuclear reactors.

    Wind doesn't always blow, tides come and go, Hydro requires large damns, Solar requires land area in the square mile range, geothermal is limited to areas which have large geothermal activity(iceland, yellowstone).

    Though personally Solar has the best bet for the future. just two technologies need to be perfected. Crank up solar cell effeciency to 30-40%, and ultra Capacitors. Then Each home built could be designed with a roof for solar power. The cells recharge the ultracapacitors, and the excess goes out the line.

    You literally build a solar farm from the very homes that need the power. One would still need nuclear, for the primary source, but you would need a lot less of it, and could turn off the coal plants.
  • Re:Lifetime cost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <> on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:34AM (#21763630) Homepage
    There's the waste disposal cost and the decommissioning cost to add to that as well. Nuclear waste is hellishly expensive to transport and dispose of... offseting the gains you get from the cheaper power generation. Decomissioning can eat up more money than building the thing in the first place.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:41AM (#21763686) Homepage Journal
    The claimed cost of power is $0.05/kwh.

    A gallon of gasoline has something around 35kwh. 35kwh from this thing would cost you $1.75. If you had a fleet of electric vehicles, you could continually charge batteries off this thing and swap them out.

    A 200kw reactor would produce the equivalent of almost 140 gallons of gasoline per day. Effectively this is more energy, if your vehicles operate in the city, because you don't expend energy idling the engine. You could operate a fleet of electric cabs, locking in the equivalent of a $1.75/gallon energy cost for the next forty years.
  • Re:Eh... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Burnhard ( 1031106 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:42AM (#21763698)
    This is blatant trolling and yet is moderated 4, interesting. If you believe the crap around about greenhouse emissions (apparently they are bad), you might also remember the eco-warrior campaigns against Nuclear Power (apparently that is also bad). Only now of course nuclear power is considered good, coal bad. Even then they aren't satisfied. If you say you are going to put up 1,000 windmills then the bird tweeters and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) brigade will be up in arms. What about the environmental effects of hydro projects? The eco-loonies will be there too. So it goes.
  • Re:Eh... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:47AM (#21763748) Homepage
    Option number 3 :

    They've run out of oil and don't want to collapse entirely. Despite all their high towering, and despite their supposed "faith" they know very well their economies will collapse in months if the oil runs out.

    Which is going to happen in no more than 15 years (probably less). (and their incomes from oil will drop exponentially during this period). They need fuel. 60 years worth of fuel and they need it in storage containers now. And they need money. Thousands of times more money than they have.
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:04AM (#21763886) Homepage Journal
    Solar is not viable in high latitudes as the same winter that makes more difficult to have hydro (because water freezes) or thermo-electric (because you have to haul the fuel from somewhere) generation also makes the daylight last few hours.

    Low-service nuclear is the way to go in these cases.

    If I had to live off-grid, I would rather have solar or solar-thermal where I live (a mile south from the Tropic of Capricorn), but nuclear also seems a nice option for "power-anywhere problems".
  • Re:A slogan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:07AM (#21763916) Homepage Journal
    Good luck purchasing the enriched uranium needed to run your private building block reactor.

    Toshiba manages that

    Or operating the thing yourself.

    No need, it's completely automated. The only thing you worry about is putting water in one end and running the steam through the turbine on the other.

    It's an interesting technology, but the chances of having one of these for your apartment are not very good.

    It'd be expensive overkill, yes. Now, a few for the local military base... I mean, they already have highly enriched uranium buried all over the place...

    Might as well save a few million(and let the local coal plant off the hook a bit).

    Wait a second...

    Let's say that this is a large apartment complex. 200 apartments. Each apartment averages ~8 amps, 1kw each. At 10 cents per kwh, that's $73 each, average bill*. We buy/sell electricity to the grid to balance load just like most people with solar panels(net metering). Selling electricity at 10 cents a kw/h to our tenants is more than enough to cover the cost of the plant. Heck, we break even if we can sell it to the power company at 5 cents.

    Still, this reactor system isn't going to be 100% efficient at turning heat into electricity. Since we have the heat source on site, we build a trigeneration [] plant [] instead of a straight electricity generator that also heats the water for use in the apartments, runs a building heat system of some sort, and utilizes an absorbtion cooler to provide AC.

    This should allow me to sell electricity to my tenants and the grid to cover the cost of the reactor, and provide heating & cooling to by tenants for essentially the cost of the generation equipment. Heating and cooling can easily equal the electricity cost, so the potential profit is high. At the very least, the lower costs would allow me to offer a lower rent price to keep the apartments full while still offering perks such as 'heat, AC, and hot water included!'.

    *Just assume that they're running around with inefficient electric appliances and use their electric stove a lot.
  • Submarines (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:27AM (#21764142)
    Submarines have had very small, very safe reactors for decades. Unfortunately, the technology is highly classified and will most likely never be made available for commercial uses

    My brother-in-law was on an attack sub and I got to tour it (my father in-law actually got to drive it!). We weren't allowed aft passed a certain point, but give where we were in the sub, you could get an idea of how small the reactor was. Always thought it would be fun to put those reactors to use for domestic power generation, even if just for special purposes like powering server farms.

  • Re:Cannot Find (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dhanson865 ( 1134161 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:41AM (#21764318)
    I suppose it makes sense given news stories about Toshiba []

    LONDON, Feb. 6 -- Making a big bet on the future of nuclear power, Toshiba of Japan agreed on Monday to buy Westinghouse Electric, the atomic energy division of British Nuclear Fuels, for $5.4 billion.

    The purchase price is about three times the amount analysts estimated in July, because of competition for the unit. Toshiba outbid global giants like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and General Electric.

    Nuclear power is increasingly seen as an alternative to energy sources like coal and oil, as energy demand increases around the world. Atsutoshi Nishida, Toshiba's president and chief executive, speaking at a news conference in London, estimated that demand for nuclear power would grow 50 percent by 2020. []

    Toshiba, which is shifting more focus on its nuclear power plant maker, is eyeing demand for thermal power plant turbines, which share the same construction as turbines in nuclear power plants.

    Toshiba late last year took a 77 percent stake in Westinghouse, the U.S. power plant unit of British Nuclear Fuels, for $4.16 billion, eyeing growing demand for nuclear power abroad amid fears of global warming and high prices of natural gas and oil.

    Toshiba's rivals are also betting on a surge in nuclear power's popularity, including Hitachi Ltd., which plans to pool its nuclear units with GE, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, which has partnered with France's Areva. []

    Tokyo (AFP) Oct 22, 2007
    Japan's Toshiba Corp. said Monday it would develop a state-of-the-art nuclear engineering facility as it forecast demand will continue to grow for atomic power plants.

    Toshiba said it would start work on the building next year and expected it to be open by March 2009.
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:52AM (#21764498)
    Hmm, yet another mostly ridiculous article, if you know anything about nuclear technology.
    • 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.
    • A few small reactors have been made. One scaled-down model for the NR-1 submarine cost about $60 million, and puts out almost 80 horsepower. Another scaled down one, for the Artic, called the SL-1, cost a bit less, but did not last very long, even with continuous maintenance, and finally blew up real good, (probably due to a careless Joe).
    • You need at least a couple skilled engineers, not to mention a few guards, to deploy a power station. Not exactly economical for a power plant that only makes a few dollars per hour of electricity.
    • 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.
    • Technologies like "Pebble bed" and "intrinsically safe" reactors have been the stuff of Popular Science magazine for decades now. Not likely any of them will get built any time soon, for many very good reasons.
  • Re:Eh... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:52AM (#21764508) Homepage
    Wonderful deal, isn't it?

    Iran only has to build expensive reactors, and buy the fuel from the US (or whoever provides it) which will of course be sold at a profit (so it's not exactly a huge concession on the provider's part)

    That'd work right until the provider decides it doesn't like something going on and says "No more fuel for you!".

    Then what happens is that Iran gets rolling blackouts, and gets stuck with lots of expensive hardware they can't use, because if they had enough power without the reactors they wouldn't be building them in the first place.

    Yes, I don't understand why anybody wouldn't sign up for a great deal like that.
  • by astinus ( 560894 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:13AM (#21764784) Homepage Journal
    So... you're saying Slashdot grew up a bit? Started thinking beyond the classic engineer's trap of shouting "everything is POSSIBLE" while ignoring the "is it plausible" question?

    Perish the thought.
  • Re:Where we live ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Altus ( 1034 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @01:33PM (#21766660) Homepage

    But you eventually run out of space to put the trees and you cant cut down old trees without letting out the CO2 (either by burning or by decay over time) though people have talked about sequestering carbon in trees which are cut down and shipped to the poles where it is too cold for them to decay, but I imagine the carbon foot print of the shipping would make that impractical.

    I'm not sure trees are a good example here though because they take a long time to grow, but the same argument is made for bio diesel, that every years crop is turned into CO2 that is consumed by the next years crop.
  • Re:Moon or mars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Loke the Dog ( 1054294 ) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @05:34PM (#21770780)
    And note how this comes just as ion thrusters are becoming common in space exploration. Dawn was launched just months ago and is propelled by ion thrusters, for example. 200 kW for 40 years is exactly the right order of magnitude that's interesting these days. I'm not sure exactly how much power Dawn uses for thrust, but it can make 10 kW, this would give 20 times more. This might seem like an overkill, but it might be usefull when visiting the outer planets moons, since you can carry enough propellant to go into low orbits of several moons with one craft. Theoretically, you could even have it return for a refuel.

    The solar panels of ISS can generate power in the same order of magnitude as this power plant and one can probably assume that a mission to mars would require a similar amount, assuming any propulsion was done the old fashioned way. Probably more though, but since redundancy is always good, 2 or 4 of these might be perfect. For the moon, this obviously would help a lot to survive the lunar night. 200 kW is probably about right here too, and you'd have much to waste on various kinds of machinery.

    So I think this was clearly designed for space applications. I wonder how long it would take to get to mars if you strapped one of these and some ion thruters onto ISS... Better than letting it fall into the atmosphere.
  • I Just Knew... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Friday December 21, 2007 @11:24AM (#21779190) Homepage Journal
    ...that's where we were headed. What a stupid idea. It's like giving people PCs. They have more computing power than they actually need. They waste more power because it's inefficient. They cause more problems because they are clueless about maintaining their PCs and get rooted more times than I care to imagine. They are stupid enough to take their PCs in for repair at big box shops that employ neanderthal techs (not all of them, but most of them are stupid goons) and then pay an arm and a leg for a completely reformatted system at best and a poorly patched system at worst. But most of all, these people who seem to think they need all this computing power do VERY little with their systems and probably use about 3% of what the systems are capable of. Now apply that to local power generation paying attention to the fact that a reactor need fuel and careful maintenance:

    They have more electrical power than they actually need. They waste more electrical power AND nuclear fuel because a reactor for a small group of homes is inefficient. They will cause more problems (explosions, radioactive contamination) because they are clueless about properly maintaining their nukes and will likely come very close to meltdowns more times than I care to imagine. They will be stupid enough to trust the repair and maintenance of their nukes to companies that will employ neanderthal techs who are poorly paid and have little care for making mistakes. (Hell, if a phone company can blow up a house by hitting a gas line [this happened in Strongsville Ohio in August 2007. Look it up.] and very likely shirk all responsibility, you can just imagine what the private sector will do with nuke maintenance) But most of all, these people who seem to think they need locally generated power for their cul de sac will like use VERY little of the power generated and the rest will be wasted in the name of convenience.

    Yes, I believe that energy companies are vultures and most of the CEOs and administration in those companies should be lined up against a wall... But I also think that part of the equation to really being smart about electrical energy consumption comes down to conservation. Instead of Toshiba making nukes as a first line of energy crisis solutions, they should instead be working on ways to make their devices more power efficient. Even if it means INCONVENIENCE for the end user. ALL of the consumer electronic companies should be doing this. Make sure all devices actually turn completely off and drain NO power when a user is not using it. Make sure that all computing devices that need to have a saved state do so with solid state drives and better battery technology. Re-work home computing so that all you need is one central resource module that hosts CPU, RAM and storage and interacts with wireless devices that are the "terminals" or "thin clients" while still providing something that feels like a regular PC experience. Make sure that one central module does NOT run an OS at all, but simply hands out resources to the authorized devices. That way you can buy one decent unit that might last a decade instead of new PCs every two to three years. And GET USED TO INCONVENIENCE. It's better than destroying the planet. I'll happily ride the bus to work instead of drive if it means I'm one less polluter. (I do ride the bus to work for just that reason) If you can't bring yourself to inconvenience yourself, you've failed in your civic duty to others.