Necessity is the mother of invention … and some really bad ideas
Mein Gott. I was so hoping that this article was from The Onion or something. Porta-nukes will power oil-shale melters, because there’s just no topping the American spirit — the willingness to take a truly abysmal idea (oil shales) and make it worse:
The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. It’s shaped like a sake cup, filled with a uranium hydride core and surrounded by a hydrogen atmosphere. Encase it in concrete, truck it to a site, bury it underground, hook it up to a steam turbine and, voila, one would generate enough electricity to power a 25,000-home community for at least five years.
The company Hyperion Power Generation was formed last month to develop the nuclear fission reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory and take it into the private sector. If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors.
Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn’t like to think of its product as a “reactor.” It’s self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator.
“In fact, we prefer to call it a ‘drive’ or a ‘battery’ or a ‘module’ in that it’s so safe,” Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says. “Like you don’t open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don’t ever open it or mess with it.”
LANL scientist Otis Peterson filed the patent for the nuclear fission reactor in 2003. In theory, the reactor uses uranium crystals and hydrogen isotopes to create an internal, self-regulating balance.
Because it’s so new, anti-nuclear power activists aren’t quite sure what to make of it yet. But “skeptical” is perhaps too gentle a word for their initial reactions to Hyperion’s claims of a “clean” energy source.
“This whole idea is loony and not worthy of too much attention,” Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello says. “Of course, factoring in enough cronyism, corruption and official ignorance and boosterism, it’s possible the principals could make some money during the initial stages, before the crows come home to roost.”
The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer would beg to differ. The group of 700 labs, set up by Congress to promote “technology transfer” activities between the public and private sectors, honored Peterson’s invention as an “Outstanding Technology Development” in October 2003 at its conference in Hawaii. Now retired from LANL, Peterson has become the chief scientist for Hyperion, Blackwell says.
Blackwell is a director of Purple Mountain Ventures, a self-described “adventure capital” firm specializing in commercial development of LANL technology. Purple Mountain also is the financial backer behind The Company for Information Visualization and Analysis (CIVA), a local company developing LANL pandemic modeling software. Hyperion’s reactor, though, has the potential to solve the energy crisis, according to Blackwell.
“The lab is doing a lot of work on oil shales and oil sands, but there’s no way to get power to those facilities,” Blackwell says. “So, this nuclear battery would be brought in and that would provide the power to run a small city of industrial use.”
Blackwell also envisions that the battery could be used at military bases, as well as in the developing world, where poverty is a product of a lack of electricity and clean drinking water. This week, Hyperion meets with its first potential clients, but Blackwell hopes to approach the United Nations and international humanitarian groups.
So far, though, anti-nuclear advocates don’t buy the claims advertised on Hyperion’s Web site (www.hyperionpowergeneration.com).
“The nuclear industry has never given the complete picture.” Nuclear Watch New Mexico Executive Director Jay Coghlan says. “Taxpayer subsidies and the environmental and financial costs of mining and enriching uranium and waste disposal are never completely factored in.”