Thursday, September 25, 2008

Decentralized Nuclear Power

This is very interesting. Instead of large, expensive, nuclear power plants that take years to build, Hyperion Power proposes to build thousands of small-scale nuclear power plants sufficient to power 10,000 American households:
It's about 70 megawatts thermal, and, depending on your steam cycle and how you're generating electricity, it's about 30 megawatts electrical, at the turbine. Thirty megawatts is tiny compared to traditional nuclear reactors and even coal plants, but we're going for distributed or grid-appropriate electric generators or for industrial uses—for mining, for heavy oil production.
And, they claim it's safe, self-sustaining, and utterly useless to any would-be nuclear bomb makers:
Our fuel is very unique. It's uranium hydride. UH3 is the chemical formula. Low-enriched, about 10 percent [uranium isotope]-235, the rest is U-238. By comparison, bomb-grade fuel is about 98 percent enriched.

You can't turn our fuel into a bomb. You'd have to re-enrich, re-process the fuel, so you might as well start with yellowcake. That's one of the neat safety features of our reactor. For nefarious purposes, our reactor has absolutely no value whatsoever.


The neat thing about UH3, about uranium hydride, is it's a moderator and an emergency cooling system in one. Its chemical composition—and we say it's been designed by God to be the prefect nuclear fuel—when uranium hydride gets too hot, when the reaction gets a little out of hand, it will start shedding those hydrogen atoms naturally, which turns off the nuclear fires and, if necessary, cools down the reactor. This happens very, very fast.
If Hyperion's claims prove true, this is a small, relatively cheap, easily managed form of nuclear fission. Not only could this be easily applied throughout the United States, but also throughout the world. Since defeating global warming is not only about the United States getting off carbon-based energy production, but also about India and China doing so, the adoption of such clean, distributed low-cost nuclear power by those nations could be a big part of the eventual solution.

Hat Tip: Clean Technica

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