With news reports coming with depressing regularity about nuclear plant builds outside the U.S. and much of the developed world the news from Dave Carlson, the COO at Hyperion in an email to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights is welcome, indeed, a face into the gale force wind kind of challenge.

Mr. Carlson explained to Mr. Adams that Hyperion was focusing its efforts in a different direction from the vision of its founders. Instead of building systems aimed at remote areas all over the world, the company is developing a financially strong first customer in North America and planning to license their system in either the US or Canada.

That’s sounds incredible – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to approve any reactor not previously approved by the Atomic Energy Commission nearing 40 years ago.

Hyperion Power Module. Click image for the largest view or visit the Hyperion Power Generation site linked above.

Mr. Adams report that Carlson related Hyperion is seeking to build a partnership with an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor that can help them build a complete power plant. The basic reactor design is unchanged and the economic model remains a system that can compete in markets where the best available power source is a diesel engine running on fuel that costs at least $4.00 per gallon. That is roughly $30 per million BTU, more than 7 times the current price of natural gas in the continental United States. When fuel prices are that high, electricity costs at least 30 cents per kilowatt hour to generate.

That would be an unusual situation for grid power.  Carlson explains the markets where Hyperion Power Modules will be successful are entirely different markets from those that Adam’s employer, B&W, is aiming to serve with the B&W mPowerTM Reactor.

Adams notes that the Tennessee Valley Authority wouldn’t be interested in building Hyperion Power Modules at the Clinch River site; its service territory has too many other low cost options.

Carlson was obviously not able to share any details about the specific customers his company is targeting or the EPC contractors that are being considered.

Adams notes in his post several issues.  First is the regulatory matters. Fixed costs associated with the current regulatory model are simply impossible to carry with a smaller revenue base.  The security costs alone – if a small, remotely-sited, mostly underground reactor is stubbornly treated like existing sites – would be on the order of $30 million per year.  A 25 MWe power plant running with a 90% capacity factor and selling power at $0.30 per kilowatt hour would generate a little less than $60 million per year in sales.

Carlson notes that Hyperion has new people.  It’s reported that the new folks are ready to go after regulatory approval.  This will be a huge task.  Yet the American dream is due for a resurgence, and small nuclear will on the leading edge.  It might be possible for fresh energetic and persistent people to accomplish what legions of private company executives facing entrenched bureaucrats have failed to do for the nation.

Adam’s last paragraph is an example of the American “can do” spirit and shows the concrete of the American character saying, “The potential benefit for the world’s human population motivates some of us to patiently press forward, despite the carefully designed barriers to entry that have been erected by the established energy providers during the past 50 years. There is some chance for success with the right attitude, the right technical choices and a patient application of pressure backed by facts and resources.”

If we can help – lets hope those guys let us know.  At least the firm is staying the U.S. and not leaving taking the intellectual property, capital, jobs, profits and tax revenues overseas.  If they get an approval, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can get salvage its reputation the U.S could again be the gold standard in nuclear power production.  We’re not making any bets here, though . . .  Sometimes it looks and feels like its Americans v. the U.S. Government.


1 Comment so far

  1. Matt Musson on October 4, 2011 7:37 AM

    The technology is the simple part. Convincing the NRC may be impossible.

    “The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.” -Dr. McCoy, Star
    Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind