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Distributed "Nuclear Batteries" the New Infrastructure Answer? 611

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

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  • Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:03PM (#26334955)

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

    • Re:Critical (Score:5, Informative)

      by lord_nimula ( 839676 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:41PM (#26335601)
      That's exactly right, but people prefer letting the papers think for them. In a nutshell: If the thing didn't go critical, it would not be a viable power source. Criticality is the condition where, on average, each fission begets one further fission--this is how a constant power level is maintained. Further, supercriticality corresponds to increasing power output, and subcriticality to decreasing output. All of these conditions are necessary for the reactor to respond to changing power demands, and none of them is inherently bad.
      • Re:Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

        by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:51PM (#26335759)

        That's exactly right, but people prefer letting the papers think for them.

        I don't know if that's it so much as the "papers" seem to know what they're talking about. I don't. Critical? K? These are things I know nothing about. There are people on /. who swear on all things holy that nuclear power is completely safe, almost to the point of suggesting Chernobyl and 3 mile island were trivial, not actually radioactive, or hoaxes. There seem to be other people who say there is no such thing as safe nuclear power. Both camps seem to know a lot more about it than I do. You guys work it out and then tell me which it is. In the mean time, I'm pulling for solar power. It works for plants, and I have yet to hear any controversey about will solar panels explode. And don't suggest that people who don't know the ins and outs of nuclear power are dumb or I'll start quizing you on developmental neurobiology.

        • Re:Critical (Score:5, Informative)

          by shawb ( 16347 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @06:06PM (#26335973)
          Chernobyl... yes, big disaster. 3 mile island? Literally not an issue... the safety measures contained the problem. Study after study has not shown any increase in cancer or teratogenic effects. Basically you'd get a lower dose of radiation living near 3 mile island than you would living near a coal fired power plant.
          • Re:Critical (Score:5, Informative)

            by Gerzel ( 240421 ) <brollyferret@gm a i> on Monday January 05, 2009 @06:18PM (#26336123) Journal

            Also Chernobyl was due to bad design and poor saftey and maintainence procedures.

            Nuke is not 100% safe, but you could also get crushed under a solar panel or more-likely have the chemicals and other pollutants used in making the panel poison you.

            Nuke can be safe and clean as well as relatively cheep with proper care and maintenance. It isn't a gift from Maya the Earth Goddess but then again it isn't a scheme by some villain from Captain Planet either.

            • Re:Critical (Score:5, Informative)

              by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @07:23PM (#26336857) Homepage Journal

              Very true but perhaps understated. Even the poor procedures at Chernobyl were ignored. From what I have seen, the operators in the space of an hour managed to do practically every DON'T in their procedural manual, including overriding the safety systems to withdraw more control rods than was permitted under any circumstance.

              That coupled with an inherently unsafe design and wildly fluctuating power output (due also to operator error) perfectly set the reactor up for a thermal runaway.

              With appropriate fuel reprocessing, nuclear has the potential for the LEAST environmental impact of any power source including wind (kills birds, spoils view), solar (takes up large land areas), and hydro (kills fish, prevents return to spawning grounds).

          • Re:Critical (Score:5, Informative)

            by frieko ( 855745 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @06:32PM (#26336303)
            At TMI about half the core melted and formed a puddle at the bottom of the pressure vessel. Even though they eventually pulled their heads out of their asses and saved the day, that is most definitely an "issue".

            Disclaimer: That's not to say that we haven't learned anything in the 40 years since TMI was designed. I find it absurd that we stopped making nuke plants. We should be building shiny new safe ones so that we can decommission all the old time bombs.
            • Re:Critical (Score:5, Informative)

              by mpyne ( 1222984 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @07:03PM (#26336653)

              At TMI about half the core melted and formed a puddle at the bottom of the pressure vessel. Even though they eventually pulled their heads out of their asses and saved the day, that is most definitely an "issue".

              The "saving the day" was way after the meltdown. The big concern was the hydrogen bubble formed in the reactor vessel by the reaction between steam and the much hotter than normal Zircaloy fuel cladding. The problem was the risk of the hydrogen causing an explosion that would rupture the vessel.

              The meltdown was a concern from the regard of waste handling (as you can't simply pull the fuel cells out of the core like for a normal refueling) and due to the risk of destroying the first layer of containment (the reactor vessel). Even if the melting core material had ruptured the vessel however, that's why reactors in Western nations have a containment vessel to hold the contaminated material (and keep radiation levels outside the containment vessel at background levels).

              Keep in mind that TMI-2 was scrammed the entire time the core was melting down -- this was not a runaway nuclear reaction, this was a loss of core cooling (a nuclear core will generate "decay heat" for some time after it is shutdown). So a meltdown is not a concern for radiation generation per se but rather for nuclear plant integrity.

              Are nuclear meltdowns an issue? Of course they are -- they wreck a tremendously expensive nuclear core and the cleanup is it itself even more expensive than normal. But it is nowhere near the same league as Chernobyl (which violently blew up due to managing to achieve "prompt criticality []", which is the criticality you want to avoid).

        • Re:Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @06:13PM (#26336063) Journal

          3 mile island was trivial. Chernobyl was due to crappy Soviet engineering, management, and maintenance. We've had plenty of time to learn from their mistakes.

          Solar panels don't explode, but every solar panel is manufactured with some pretty nasty chemicals. Is the guaranteed environmental impact of manufacturing billions of solar panels less of an issue than the minuscule risk of a melt down?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Eskarel ( 565631 )

          Three mile island was fairly trivial. You can't go into the site for a few hundred years, that's about it.

          Chernobyl was not trivial in the general sense of the world, but considering that it was essentially a practical worst case for design, administration, and maintainence and was built by a country that couldn't even make simple machinery work more than one time in three as a worst case benchmark it's remarkably benign.

          No one is saying that nuclear power is 100% without risks. What we're saying is that of

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by IorDMUX ( 870522 )
          Well, first off, critical != meltdown. It is *good* that a reactor can go critical, that means that it is "on". "Critical" indicates that each fission reaction is creating 1 (or more) other fission reactions, meaning that the fission is self sustaining.

          What happened at Chernobyl (in a nutshell) was that the presence of steam in their water-regulated reactors increased the reaction rate. (This is called a "Void coefficient" greater than 1.) You can see where this leads: more steam --> more reactio
  • Sexay! (Score:5, Funny)

    by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:04PM (#26334963) Journal

    Three-headed fish coming to a pond near you!

  • by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:04PM (#26334965)

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

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

    • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:09PM (#26335073) Homepage Journal

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

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        Solar taking space is a total red herring. Given the land mass that is already covered by man made materials that the solar panels could cover, it is simply is not an issue. This is not a comment on the rest of your post though.
    • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:16PM (#26335155) Homepage

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by truthsearch ( 249536 )

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

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fluffeh ( 1273756 )
      From TFA:

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

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

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

    • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:24PM (#26335283) Homepage Journal

      They are more flexible and more reliable.

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

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

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

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        We might have a meltdown, some radiation, and a leak, but that's about it.

        Oh whew! I was worried something bad might happen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MrTester ( 860336 )

        Sorry, but issues of draining energy out of the wind or robbing the ground of solar energy are bogus.
        Im not saying that there is no impact, but any impact there may be is negligable next to the same impact derived from any city you care to name. Buildings block the wind FAR more than a windmill could and pavement changes the way the land absorbs energy as much as solar panals do and is far more pervasive than any solar plan I have seen.

        Stick to arguments about making the solar panels. There is substance t

    • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @06:27PM (#26336233) Journal

      Windfarms are only profitable with government subsidy; wind mills cost more energy than they make in there serviceable lifetime (Hence the need for subsidy). Bad for bat populations, which are already in decline.

      Solar panels are fantastically bad environmentally. They require the production of green house gasses far worse than CO2, lifetimes are limited and exponentially decay. They require toxic batteries to work, and are unreliable due to weather. 14% efficiency. Also, bad for ground-level wildlife.

      The only real alternatives are:

      • Solar algae (2-4% efficient)
      • Geo-thermal (limited places)
      • Wave/tidal (possible local environmental impacts, high maintenance costs)
      • Nuclear (low risk, high output, radioactive half-lives are down to 200 years)

      Those are listed from worst to best in terms of available output.

      • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @09:47PM (#26338167) Journal
        Windfarms are only profitable with government subsidy; wind mills cost more energy than they make in there serviceable lifetime (Hence the need for subsidy). Bad for bat populations, which are already in decline. Wow. just wow.
        The subsidies are far far far less than what is plowed into Coal, oil, OR NUKES. In addition, with our the subsidies, wind produces less than .1/kw. Right now, Wind is viable without subsidy in a number of locations (with more coming due to increasing coal and gas costs). If we assigned a real costs to the pollution from the others, then it would be less.
        As to the bats, well, how much life do you think is dying from Mercury, lead, etc. emission in the air by coal and oil. How many died from that recent ash release?

        Solar panels are fantastically bad environmentally. They require the production of green house gasses far worse than CO2, lifetimes are limited and exponentially decay. They require toxic batteries to work, and are unreliable due to weather. 14% efficiency. Also, bad for ground-level wildlife.
        You are kidding, right? Green House gases far worse than CO2. Like water? Limited Lifetime? You mean 30-50 years? They require energy storage to work 24x7 (i.e. base power), not necessarily toxic batteries. 14% efficieny? The systems vary any where from 7% (thin film) to 35% on newer products (using mags). Bad for ground-level wildlife? You mean something on the roof is bad for the ground? Hmmmm.

        Of course, the worse part about your statement is that it assumes SOlar PV. Solar Thermal is actually at the same cost as coal.
        The only real alternatives are:
        Solar algae (2-4% efficient)
        Geo-thermal (limited places)
        Wave/tidal (possible local environmental impacts, high maintenance costs)
        Nuclear (low risk, high output, radioactive half-lives are down to 200 years)
        Again wow. Just wow.
        Solar Thermal was missed in all your stuff.
        Algae 2-4% efficient?????
        Geo-thermal. Have you even read the current study by MIT? Google for it. If you consider only shallow geo-thermal, then USA will only produce about 10GW of power via it. BUT deep geo-thermal can produce more than 1/2 of America's total power need (that assumes everything on electrical) before 2050.
        Nukes half-lives down to 200 years? ONLY if you run it through IFR. Of course, that was killed and the program needs to be re-started (if nothing else, just to use our nuclear waste up).

        Look, I am a big fan of nukes (more of the IFR), BUT, spreading garbage about AE does not help the cause. This is /., not the 5th grade. Many other also have a clue.
  • I seem to remember watching a show about little reactors put in out of the way places all over Russia to power navigation aids and stuff. The show I watched, one had been opened and guys were taking turns trying to get the radio active material into a container to get it moved. Some hunters had found it and got radiation poisoning.

    • I saw this on TV also, but the thing was attached to a silver car that could travel back and forth through time
    • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:10PM (#26335083) Journal

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

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

    • by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:26PM (#26335317)

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

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

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

      According to Wiki there have been several cases of both innocent travellers and thieves being irradiated to death - the travellers slept by them for th
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:04PM (#26334981) Homepage
    Convincing people to let the government/power agency to bury "nuclear" ANYTHING near a town is like a huge red flag to conservationsists and the 'anti-establishement' people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

      • I think the "no one is even aware of" is one of the fears that will block this idea. Americans don't trust the government. PARTICULARLY if they are trying to do something that that "no one is even aware of".
        • by grantek ( 979387 )

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

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

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

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by artson ( 728234 )

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

        The Woodland Cree First Nation and the folks in the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation would be fascinated at their "non-person" status.

        I used to work with a guy from Fort Chip called Noel Mercredi. It was the name the Catholic priest christened him with. I guess Christmas came on Wednesday that year. He was a person too. He once told me that the name of his tribe meant "The People

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )

      The nuclear option is not politically viable. The other options are not physically viable. The only reliable, cost effective, clean, and sufficiently abundant source of power available with forseeable technology is nuclear.

      Solar - takes lots of space and panels are costly
      Wind - intermittent and insufficiently abundant to power a continent
      Ethanol - not cost effective
      Natural Gas - still releases CO2
      "clean" coal - still releases CO2
      Tidal - Only works on the coasts.

      Not that I'm saying these are all worthless.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:06PM (#26335005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NIMBY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CambodiaSam ( 1153015 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:06PM (#26335017)
    No matter how safe it is, I'm betting this will be the largest "Not In My Back Yard" example ever put forth in American History.
    • Yup. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The only way to solve that problem is to offer something signficant in return, such as free electricity for homes within a certain distance of the "battery". Getting everyone within that radius to agree might be something else entirely.
  • and uses older technology that is not capable of creating nuclear warheads

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

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

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

      Ok, so let's say you steal two or three of them. Now what? You'd have to have a pretty interesting "house" to be able to take radioactive materials and turn them into a bomb, presuming they're even the correct type of material. I don't think making a nuclear bomb is exactly one of those basement projects... not to mention that most nuclear reactors of a

  • Not exactly. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:08PM (#26335053) Homepage Journal

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

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

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

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

    • Re:nuclear warheads? (Score:5, Informative)

      by samkass ( 174571 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:29PM (#26335381) Homepage Journal

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

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

  • I suppose if we're going to play with terms we could call the following a "Rapid Discharge Nuclear Battery"... []


  • by SirLanse ( 625210 ) <> on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:17PM (#26335167)

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dbIII ( 701233 )

      These have been working of submarines and aircraft carriers for decades.

      And those situations limit the alternatives and mean that an incredibly expensive nuclear power source is still a really good idea. Once you get onto dry land those power sources do not look as good because there are a lot of other alternatives.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dwye ( 1127395 )

      > These have been working of submarines and aircraft carriers for decades.

      Incorrect. The pressurized water reactors that were used in subs and ships were adapted to produce the big 1000 MW reactors that scare the antinuclear types that we all know. This design (TRIGA) preceded PWRs by decades, and was designed for college research departments to "play" with safely. It hasn't had the reactor-years of PWRs because it isn't as suitable for commercial use when joining the grid.

  • Power Generation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NuclearError ( 1256172 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:18PM (#26335177)
    I RTFA and did not find how the battery actually produces power - is it with a typical steam turbine, or some novel new system? The compact size of the battery also raises some interesting engineering problems. The one I am most interested is shielding - if there is not enough shielding between the reactor and the cooling parts, the radiation will corrode the parts to the point of failure, which is bad especially underground. It does make a lot of sense to use this for remote outposts like mining though.
  • by The Master Control P ( 655590 ) <ejkeever&nerdshack,com> on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:20PM (#26335231)
    Nuclear power companies in the West have safety records and standards that would put any other power company and for that matter almost any other organization to shame (One significant incident at the outset in Britain, one minor incident in the US in '79, and a few messes of note in Japan) but any statements to the effect that it's safe, even if it's clearly impossible for a meltdown to occur, are prefixed with a clear suggestion of "But you should still be terrified of the Nuclear Bomb In Waiting."

    But America gets half its power from coal, which dumps literally tons of thorium and uranium and mercury into the air due to fly ash every year.
    • by TheHawke ( 237817 ) <> on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:59PM (#26335867)

      One reactor design is made to prevent critical events from forming. Toshiba's 4S reactor. The reactor uses a neutron reflector to bounce neutrons back at the reactor core, heating it up as the reflector moves up and down. The faster the reflector moves, the more energy is produced. Something breaks, meeting SCRAM conditions, the reflector simply stops moving, the reactions stop, moving back down to relative background conditions. The design is modular, the core is sealed at the factory and moved to the site in a single piece containment vessel. Being sodium cooled poses risks, but is manageable.

      This design will provide 10 MW @ 75% capacity for 20-30 years.

  • Triga reactors (Score:3, Informative)

    by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:26PM (#26335309)

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We don't need a radically different infrastructure to implement technologies like this -

    • My backyard is already full of dead bodies. If I bury a nuke back there, the radiation will turn them all into zombies.

      And I bet they would be *real* hungry after they clawed their way above ground.

  • by QuantumPion ( 805098 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @05:44PM (#26335649)

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

    This statement is incorrect, a reactor has to be critical to produce power.

    Criticality refers to the rate at which the chain reaction of fission is occurring. If the reactor is sub-critical, then more neutrons are absorbed then causing new fissions. In this state, the reactor power exponentially decreases to zero. When the reactor is critical, exactly 1 fission is caused on average for each neutron released, which means the reactor is at a constant power. Super-critical means the reactor is increasing in power. A special case of criticality related to nuclear bombs is called prompt-super-critical. For more info, see the wiki [] article.

    I am not sure of the details of these designs, but I bet they use a fuel type similar to university research reactors. This fuel is a uranium-hydride mixture. The moderation for the neutrons is built into the fuel itself, but it has an extremely strong negative temperature coefficient. This means that any increase in power, and thus temperature, reduces the reactivity, which lowers the power back to the equilibrium level. It is physically impossible for the reactor to overpower.

    For a neat demonstration of this effect, see this youtube video []. It is the research reactor at Penn State performing a pulse. Basically, a control rod is hydraulically ejected from the core, causing the power to spike to thousands of times the rated power, but only for a microsecond. The power just as quickly goes back down to normal by itself, because of the intrinsic safety of the fuel design.

  • by golodh ( 893453 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @08:40PM (#26337657)
    Nuscale company provides a "Backgrounder", "with illustrations and diagrams for detailed information about how NuScale's technology works." (see [])

    The "backgrounder" turns out to be a 4-page brochure with explanatory text.

    What is immediately apparent is the following:

    - the Nuscale reactor is an ordinary boiling-water reactor with one cooling circuit: the heat exchanger is inside the reactor vessel itself, and steam from the secondary circuit is lead out of the reactor vessel to the generators

    - it uses control rods like any other BWR, but which does not contain coolant pumps. Convection takes care of coolant circulation.

    - it uses standard low-enriched reactor fuel which needs to be replaced every 2 years

    From the brochure:

    Thermal capacity: 150 Mwt
    Electrical capacit: 45 Mwe
    Capacity factor: > 90 percent
    Dimensions: 60 feet x 14 feet cylindrical containment vessel module containing reactor and steam generator
    Weight: ~ 300 tons as shipped from fabrication for shipping
    Transportation: Barge, truck or train Manufacturing: Forge and fabricate at any mid-size facility
    Cost: Numerous advantages due to simplicity, modular design, volume manufacturing and shorter construction times
    Fuel: Standard LWR fuel in 17 x 17 configuration, each 6 feet in length. 24 month refueling cycle with fuel enriched at 4.95 percent.

    In summary: this is a conventional Light Water Reactor which has been simplified and scaled down. I personally wouldn't want to see anything like that near where I live, or even in the same rainwater basin. I can just about live with large nuclear reactors which are situated in large concrete structures on carefully selected sites and monitored ever minute of their life-cycle by people who know something about them, but this little boondoggle is something else.

    I don't care if it has a low operational risk. If you install thousands of the things (as you must because of their limited capacity) throughout the country (and close to population centers remember; that's the whole idea) and then run them for 50 years (carting spent fuel and fresh fuel to and from all those sites every 2 years), there is bound to be a catastrophic mishap *somewhere*. A meltdown, bent control rods, an earthquake that tears the reactor vessel open, and aircraft that crashes on top, a terrorist attack, fuel transport trucks that are ruptured in a traffic accident, or even good old criminal blackmail.

    I'm not against nuclear energy per se, but this sort of nuclear micro-reactors makes me nervous. Very nervous. If we are going to have micro reactors, then conventional ones are fine. If we are going to have nuclear reactors, big is beautiful.

Matter cannot be created or destroyed, nor can it be returned without a receipt.