Using technology licensed from the U.S. government, an Arizona-based company is planning to bring a new generation of miniature nuclear reactors to market. The Hyperion Hydride Reactor is not much larger than a hot tub, is totally sealed and self-operating, has no moving parts and, beyond refueling, requires no maintenance of any sort. The reactor will output 27MW, enough to power a community of 20,000 homes, says Hyperion Energy, makers of the new reactor. The first models will roll off the assembly line in five years.
Unlike conventional nuclear reactors, the Hyperion design uses no water for cooling, meaning it can be sited anywhere. It is designed to be covered in concrete and then buried while in operation, to reduce the risk of tampering. The reactor must be excavated every 7-10 years for refueling, but can otherwise be left entirely undisturbed.
"Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world", says Hyperion CEO John Deal.
Deal says that more than 100 orders have already been placed, from both the oil and electricity industries, as well as developing nations. The small size of the reactor makes it ideal for smaller, isolated communities which can therefore avoid the heavy cost of high-power electricity transmission lines.
Since power is produced 100% of the time, the total energy output is more than 15 times what the world's most powerful 400-foot tall 5 MW wind turbine will produce. The total cost is estimated at $25 million USD. It generates no greenhouse gases while in operation and, when one takes into account the total amount of resources used during manufacture, is said to have much less of a carbon footprint than even wind or solar power.
"We now have a six-year waiting list," says Deal. "We are in talks with developers in the Cayman Islands, Panama, and the Bahamas".
The reactor uses a uranium hydride core, surrounded by hydrogen gas. The fuel is not enriched to weapons-grade, meaning it can't be used for building a nuclear device.
Hyperion plans to eventually have three factories mass-producing the reactors, a step which will further reduce costs and increase the number available.
Toshiba is also working on its own mini nuclear reactor, the "4S", which the company says stands for "super-safe, small, and simple". The 4S is based on a smaller 10 MW design that can last 30-40 years before refueling. The 4S is sodium-cooled, and uses liquid lithium-6 to moderate the reactor, instead of conventional control rods. Like Hyperion's design, the reactor is totally sealed and requires no maintenance or operation.
Toshiba says the reactor will make power available for as little as 5 cents/kWh. A demonstration version of the 4S is planned to be online in 2012, and will be sited in the Alaskan village of Galena. After that, Toshiba plans to offer the 4S for sale throughout North America and Europe.
Startup firm NuScale is also working on its own mini reactor design.