Local Company Moves Forward with Hot Tub-Sized Nuclear Power Generators
May 30, 2008
A New Mexico company recently received funding to develop a new type of portable nuclear power reactor that will produce steam, heat and electricity for industrial and mining operations. Altira Group LLC has invested an unknown amount into Hyperion Power Generation, Inc., based in Santa Fe. An initial investment by Altira is generally between $5 million and $10 million.
The reactor technology was developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). An exclusive license was granted to Hyperion for the intellectual property used to develop the hot tub-sized reactor. The license allows Hyperion to introduce, license, manufacture, market and distribute the reactor. Hyperion paid a fee to LANL to obtain the license and is required to compensate LANL with a percentage of the profits.
The modular reactor will use nuclear fuel that is less than the grade used for nuclear weapons. A pyrophoric powder uranium hydride will fuel the reactor. The uranium hydride has properties that make it spontaneously flammable in air. When uranium hydride comes into contact with water, it forms flammable and explosive hydrogen gas. The uranium hydride will be enriched to 5 percent for use in the 1 1/2 meter reactor core.
Hyperion states that the reactors "are a perfect alternative for those communities - such as military bases, hospital and college campuses - that, for security, reliability, or financial reasons, desire to be independent of their local utility's power source."
The modules can be transported by truck or ship and set up in less time than is needed to build a new nuclear power plant. The steam turbine will generate approximately 25 megawatts of electrical power or 70 megawatts of heat, providing power for 20,000 typical American-sized homes. The units will run for about five years, at which time they will be removed from the ground where they have been buried and refueled at the factory.
Deborah Blackwell, Hyperion Director of Public Affairs, said, "The main thing is that it's got a long way to go before it is deployed anywhere." Blackwell estimates that a $100 million will be spent in the development phase. Toshiba is also working on a similar reactor design.
The push for new nuclear power plants is in response to global warming and climate change. Nuclear energy proponents argue that no greenhouse gases are generated by the power plants. But greenhouse gases are generated in the mining, transportation and processing of uranium, as well as by the waste created from all of the steps involved in generating nuclear power.
Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that the estimated cost for a new nuclear power plant has tripled or quadrupled in the past few years. Projections for a new reactor have escalated to $6 billion to $12 billion.
In response, ratepayers are concerned about higher electricity bills to pay for the new plants. Ratepayers and energy activists urge lawmakers to address global warming by providing an amount similar to that needed for a new nuclear power plant to local, independent businesses to carry out energy efficiency and weatherization programs.