Hyperion Power Generation’s nuclear reactor licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory has customers for likely six to start and perhaps as many as fifty. About the size of a hot tub, well actually two stacked up or 1.5 meter cubed or cubed at less than 5 feet, these units are quite small. Manufactured and sealed with uranium fuel aboard these reactors use a technology first considered more than 50 years ago but only recently developed into working units by Dr. Otis Peterson. The fuel is uranium of a type that isn’t worth much to a terrorist. The reactor operates with principles that shut themselves down so meltdowns and other horrors for the neighbors simply don’t exist.

Los Alamos Hyperion Reactor Graphic

Los Alamos Hyperion Reactor Graphic

Brian Wang at NextBigFuture has some interesting thoughts. Brian suggests that the 4.9% enriched fuel could be burned to 50% with designs determined to extract the maximum return on fuel costs. That would make these mini reactors about ten times more efficient than current utility scale reactors and only half as much unburned fuel would remain. What the designers decide to deliver, which may be subject to the buyers wishes is yet to be determined.

The reactor exploits the nature of fissionable metal hydrides as in uranium hydride such that the metal hydride acts both as the fuel and its moderator. The control of the reaction is from the activity of the hydrogen isotope that makes the metal a hydride. If it gets too hot, the hydrogen breaks out of the hydride and escapes. Without the hydride the moderation drops, power production and heat are reduced. When too cooled the hydrogen reconnects with the metal and the process reverses, warming the reactor back up. The power is gathered by taking the heat so leaving the hydrogen in place and the reactor busily cooking along.

The reactors could be planned to run 5, 7 or 10 years with the fuel on board, depending on the final design. Then the reactor, as a whole unit is removed/replaced and returned to the manufacturer to be opened and refueled. No personnel are needed to operate this type of reactor. Just take off the heat and enjoy. Well, that’s too simple.

Uranium Hydride Reactor From Patent

Uranium Hydride Reactor From Patent

An oversimplification to be sure, but essentially yes, that simple. The reactor’s temperature characteristic to power up and down based on the hydride activity allows the device to regulate its output in relation to how much power is drawn so that it can automatically accommodate power production up to its maximum rating. The absence of mechanical moving parts should make the reactor nearly maintenance free for months or years. The technology was selected for its timeliness in response to today’s current threats and alternative fuel needs. The beauty of the design is that it addresses many of the major concerns that plague current reactor designs, such as high operating costs and extremely complex safety requirements.

The money involved is also a wake call for many competitors. Should the delivered reactor come in at 25 megawatts the yield would power about 20,000 American homes. Priced at $25 to $30 million that would get you a $1,000 to $1,200 per kilowatt cost, close to a large coal facility. Which makes the Hyperion estimates of $1,400 pr kilowatt seem reasonable.

Delivery dates for the announced order from the investment company TES Group to points in Central Eastern Europe are not set. Suggestions over the past months make 2012 or 2013 likely. Hyperion has capital, but as yet hasn’t setup a fabrication facility. But it does look like they can sell and one hopes, deliver.

This is the sort of news that brings great hope to those with a passion for cheap power available to masses of people. The pricing quoted and the prospect to be located in smaller communities could also offer grid operators advantages as the unit size may work for more distributed power generation. As noted from Brian Wang’s review the fuel itself will go much further reducing the costs for electric rates even more.

This is a good thing. Even though many have serious reservations about fission and they are valid, this design or “business model” offers great promise. The most worrisome thing is a lack of buyers, but that idea seems more unlikely as the basic understanding gets in circulation and the need for power grows.


16 Comments so far

  1. Bill Howland on November 29, 2008 1:23 AM

    If this thing costs $1,400 per kilowatt, and the thing lasts 5 years at maximum output, then I get 3 1/4 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s cheap! And that assumes you totally discard the 55 mw thermal (187,715,000 BTU / Hour). This ‘useless heat’, could steam heat homes or green houses in the winter time, and could run adsorption air conditioning in the summer time. So, if you even partially sold some of that ‘waste’ heat, it would make the 3.25 cents/kwh even cheaper! It also apparently only uses 1/10 the uranium, so predictions of U going price sky high is of no concern either! What a great product!

    Bill Howland
    Kenmore, New York

  2. Roy Harvie on December 24, 2008 10:14 AM

    Still not as good as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors that burn the existing waste, produce no products suitable for bombs, and have a tiny less than 1% reactive waste with a 78 year half life. http://www.energyfromthorium.com/
    The LFTR is not re-fueled with uranium, but much more abundant Thorium.

  3. RR on February 22, 2009 1:25 PM

    This is great technology, however the tree huggers will oppose this, as it will allow cheap mobile energy. This will promote human
    reproduction and comfort,it will enable human expansion and mastery of our environment. No, no, this will endanger our planet. RR

  4. martin wolf on January 20, 2010 12:16 PM

    Think of the drop in the price of copper alone if this technology takes hold….Fewer miles and miles of bleeding power distribution lines..Probablly operates quietly…Seems a logical evolution of power gheneration but the impact on infrastructure employment could prove difficult to sell…Regards…Mw

  5. Bill Howland on January 20, 2010 7:35 PM

    To: Martin Wolf:

    Good point, but I think you’d be more accurate in saying “Aluminum Prices”, since almost all outdoor distribution is that. Copper overhead outdoor lines I believe haven’t been installed since before the 1950’s.
    Living in Buffalo New York, I occassionally drive by copper subtransmission lines, but those were installed in the 1910’s – 1920’s.

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