Hyperion Power Generation of Los Alamos New Mexico has announced an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos Laboratory for commercial production of a uranium-fueled reactor. Assembled, fueled and encased in concrete the reactor is reported to be light enough to transport by truck. Output is quoted to be 27 megawatts that is compared to a power equivalent load for 25,000 homes. Plans in place project production to begin in 2012 for a run of 4,000 reactors. The news was first offered by Dave Maass at the Santa Fe Reporter.

Los Alamos scientist Otis Peterson filed the patent application. The unit has no moving parts, is fully self contained, doesn’t need a human operator and uses uranium crystals with hydrogen isotopes that makes for an internally self-regulating reaction. The Federal Laboratory for Technology Transfer, a group of 700 labs, set up by Congress honored Peterson and the design in 2003 as an “outstanding technology development.”

The company release by Deborah Blackwell, who is also a director of Purple Mountain Ventures, a self-described “adventure capital” firm is reported to be backing the manufacturing. Ms Blackwell offers initial applications to be in locations where high power electrical grids are distant and where high volumes of thermal energy are needed such as oil sand petroleum production. The potential of reactor production in standard designs, fuels, and mass production is considered to greatly reduce the cost of this reactor design. With today’s installation costs of standard reactor designs in the current generation expected to exceed $2,000 per kilowatt, Hyperion’s quote at $1,400 per kilowatt looks quite attractive.

On the plus side of this is Al Fin at his blog Al Fin where he offers that the size approximately that of a deep hot tub, connected to a heat exchanger and high efficiency turbine would generate electricity and that “atomic batteries” have been around and used for a long time. All true, atomic reactors generating electricity have been small and used in rarified locations such as in orbit. But Al makes the battery connection, which has a sensible sort of analogy. Ms. Blackwell offers the preference for “battery, drive or module” in describing the unit.

On the other hand, Los Alamos Study Group Director Greg Mello ( see comments below) says, “This whole idea is loony and not worthy of too much attention. Of course factoring in enough cronyism, corruption and official ignorance and boosterism, its possible the principles could make some money during the initial stages, before the crows come home to roost.” Those are pretty strong words in the face of award winning work and private capital investment. With Mr. Peterson now retired from Los Alamos and employed as Hyperion’s chief scientist the motives behind Mello’s comments might seem clearer.

Yet there is an absolute paucity of hard scientific data out today. With Hyperion stating it’s on the road for potential customer visits there has to be some hard information somewhere. The idea of an atomic reaction in a self-regulated design is very attractive. Small enough to be trucked, buried on site and all units refueled in one location offers a lot of logistical advantages.

I’m quite pleased with this news. Although the web sites highlighted above offer no hard science there will be an increasing drip of information come out as the patent application matures. One obvious flaw is that four years in the application is still pending which is a topic that the energy bill in Congress should take on with urgency.

Now I just hope the Los Alamos people are pouring their skill to similar ideas with thorium for a fuel. Meanwhile I’ll be keeping a look out for more of the science data as the doubters have a plenty of momentum and the opponents have plenty of cause for concern. It’s a good day for the uranium miners, who have had a couple of really poor decades. In any case, a portable 27 megawatts of power is a very noteworthy thing, indeed!


9 Comments so far

  1. anonymous on November 26, 2007 5:32 PM

    To the best of my knowledge, the Los Alamos study group which Greg Mello “directs” is not affiliated with Los Alamos.

  2. Brian Westenhaus on November 26, 2007 6:18 PM

    I will refrain from an edit of the anonymous comment. Without prying into the privacy of a visitor the fact is that the email notice came from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Thus I am inclined to believe the assertion that Greg Mello isn’t associated with the Lab. I have sent an email to the Santa Fe Reporter writer asking for the matter to be cleared up.

    I would ask our anonymous commenter if he/she might be kind enough to send along any links that would offer more of the science behind the new technology


  3. Brian Westenhaus on November 26, 2007 6:39 PM

    From: Dave Maass
    Subject: Re: A controversy about the article “Nuke to the Future”

    Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 17:27:41 -0700
    To: manager at newenergyandfuel.com

    The Los Alamos Study Group is a non-profit watchdog group,
    particularly focused on nuclear non-proliferation.

    It seems the good Mr. Maass has it cleared up for us now. Thank you sir for your prompt and courteous attention.


  4. anonymous on November 26, 2007 7:32 PM


    Hyperion Power Generation, Inc.
    369 Montezuma Street
    Suite 508
    Santa Fe, NM 87501
    For information, contact Deborah

  5. Ryan Countryman on November 27, 2007 1:26 AM

    There seems to be a lot of capital going into the development of utility-scale generation capacity of 10-50 Mw. This fits right in. Is there is an accounting of available and proposed systems, including pro-forma business/operations plans, similar to the mega projects wiki list for oil fields? I realize that creating such a thing would be a monstrous task, and that is why I am hoping someone else has already done it.

  6. Erich Kuerschner on November 27, 2007 8:39 AM

    As someone ” loosely affiliated” with the LASG study group (wwww.LASG.org)who generally thinks more highly of the honest science done by that group as opposed to what passes as “science” in the area of nuclear weapons (perhaps 80% of Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) work is related to nuclear weapons- with its high end computing capacity this is not to discredited the rather small real science at the LANL. But I urge readers here to hold any assertions made by the lab to serious scrutiny and peer review, The fact that the LANL commenter chose to speak anonymously speaks volumes to me. I likewise urge readers to further consider (with, of course the same serious critique)comments by Greg Mello, which are further articulated on his web site, or emailing him direct at gmello “at” LASG.org.

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