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Posts Tagged ‘Hyperion’

NUCLEAR GOES MAINSTREAM: DAN RATHER CLIMBS ON BOARD

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

March 3, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Dan Rather may no longer look the nation in the eye every night at 6 o’clock, but he still has enormous prestige and he is lending that prestige to nuclear power.
 
“Everyone I talked to agreed that nuclear power is the solution,” said Rather after doing a special feature on his weekly HDNet show, “Dan Rather Reports.”  In a lengthy excerpt posted on Huffington Post, Rather does level-headed interviews with Dr. David Moncton of MIT, Dr. Eric Loewen of GE Hitachi and “Grizz” and Deborah Deal, the brother-and-sister team who head up Hyperion, one of the leading mini-reactor companies.
 
 Instead of the traditional “What-happens-if-the-reactor-blows-up?” type of questions, Rather allows Moncton to establish that Three Mile Island actually validated the integrity of safety systems and that Chernobyl was an anomaly of Soviet science. When it comes to “What-do-you-do-with-the-waste?” he has Loewen explain the Integral Fast Breeder – an interview that verified the conclusions of author Tom Blees in Prescription for the Planet.
 
Dr. Ernest Moritz of MIT weighs in against small modular reactors and other new technology, saying that the well worn grooves of Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings more or less doom us to technologies laid out twenty years ago. "I feel like I’m a technology Luddite or something in saying this," Moniz tells Rather. "For the next ten, twenty years, if we’re going to build nuclear power, it’s going to be fundamentally based around what you see and the so-called generation III+ reactors."
 
On the whole, though, the message is upbeat. “Whether the government is on the right path is a point of contention,” Rather concludes, “but on one point, everyone I interviewed agrees. Nuclear power is the solution, they say, and it’s time to get going.”

Read more about it at the Huffington Post

 

SMALL REACTORS:  ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE’S ’20 TOP GREEN TECH IDEAS’ FOR 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

December 10, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors
 

 


In a measure of the growing enthusiasm for downsized nuclear, small modular reactors have been listed as Idea #18 on Time’s “20 Top Green Tech Ideas” of 2010.


“[T]here’s still a reluctance to build nuclear plants ­ no new one has been constructed in the U.S. in decades ­ and it goes beyond environmental concerns,” says Time, parroting standard anti-nuclear rhetoric. “Nuclear power plants are incredibly expensive investments, and right now few utilities would take on the financial risk of building one, or get banks to lend them the necessary capital, even with additional government aid. But what if you could shrink the size of a nuclear plant? That’s what companies like NuScale Power and Babcock & Wilcox are trying to do. By building a modular plant that might be a quarter the size of a the current multi-gigawatt operations, it’s possible to reduce the capital expenditures needed to start construction and cut the risk that would be associated with an accident. We may at last be approaching a time that nuclear goes nimble.”


Next to some of the other ideas on Time’s Top 20, SMRs’ credentials seem impressive. The 75-200 MW units being developed by Babcock & Wilcox, NuScale and Hyperion can run a small town of about 20,000 with a basement-sized unit. By contrast, the Solar Tower (idea #7) – which has been tried since the 1980s – can generate 10 MW on five square miles when the sun shines. A new rooftop windmill manufactured by Windtronics (Idea #13) can generate “nearly 3000 KWh a year with decent winds” – about enough electricity to run your VCR.


Still, it’s great to find nuclear in such rarified company.

Read more at Time Magazine

TOWNHALL Q&A: Homegrown Hyperion Power — Shaking up the World of Nuclear Energy

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Deborah Deal-Blackwell is part of an ambitious brother-sister team that is shaking up the world of nuclear energy. Working hand-in-hand with the Los Alamos Laboratory’s Technology Transfer Division, Deal-Blackwell and her brother John “Grizz” Deal had already created several small spin-offs four years ago when they came in contact with Dr. Otis “Pete” Peterson, who had invented a small modular reactor he thought could be used in remote mining and tar sands development. Together they founded Hyperion Power Generation with Grizz serving as CEO and Deal-Blackwell as vice president for public policy and licensing.

 Deal-Blackwell immediately saw the possibility of wider applications for the reactor. She persuaded Peterson and Grizz, who was “entrepreneur-in-residence” at Los Alamos, to journey to Washington to make a presentation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “At the time, the NRC didn’t even have anyone assigned to SMRs,” she recalls.

 What happened next is the stuff of legend. According to some stories, the NRC told them to go away until they found a customer. According to others . . . well, we’ll let her tell it. In any case, Hyperion has taken the small modular reactor idea and run with it, putting them on the map. Last March Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial saying SMRs might be the future of nuclear energy in America.

 Now Hyperion has a customer. This month the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Savannah River National Laboratory to employ a Hyperion Power Module to power its energy park. Tomorrow, after four years of effort, Deal-Blackwell and her co-founders will sit down with NRC officials in Washington to begin discussing how the Commission might begin regulatory review for the nation’s first small modular reactor.

 Here’s what Blackwell had to tell us about the effort:

 NTH:  What are the Hyperion Power Module ’s main features?

 DEAL-BLACKWELL:  It’s probably the smallest of the small reactors now heading toward licensure in the U.S. At 70 MWthermal / 25 MWelectric the HPM is really in the class of “mini”-reactors. Each reactor unit is 1.5 meters in diameter and 2.5 meters tall – about the size of two residential hot tubs stacked together. We wanted it to be small enough to fit on one truck, which is important because the unit is sealed at the assembly plant. It’s completely assembled off-site and buried in the ground in a specially designed vault. After that, it’s not to be opened or refueled. The whole assembly, including the electricity-generating component, sits on less than an acre. The entire plant can be constructed in just a few months. At the end of its useful life, which is around 10 years, we take the entire sealed reactor back to the factory where it can be refueled. We’ve got one of the few business plans that doesn’t involve leaving spent fuel on the customer’s site.

 NTH:  Does the design of the HPM have anything to do with submarine reactors or is this completely different?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: The Soviet Union created submarines using lead-cooled fast reactors that were so fast the West was forced into revamping its own technology. A lot of inspiration comes from the Soviets’ Alfa class submarine but our design team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has made significant improvements on our own.

The HPM’s lead coolant is actually lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE), a mixture of 45 percent lead and 55 percent bismuth. It’s a liquid metal similar to the sodium in a sodium-cooled reactor except that it doesn’t have the disadvantages of sodium. Sodium burns on contact with air and reacts violently with water, while LBE does not.

LBE can operate at low pressure, which reduces the need for complex, emergency-coolant injection safety systems in high-pressure reactors. The chance of pipe rupture and loss of coolant accidents are reduced significantly. Also LBE has a much higher boiling temperature (1670o C) compared to sodium (883o C), which provides greater safety margins for coping with abnormal events.

NTH:  How do you envision these reactors being deployed?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:  Primarily for mining operations, manufacturing facilities, and military bases in the U.S. There is a potential for Homeland Security/ Emergency Response use as well. Overseas, the sky is the limit. With so much of the planet still without electricity, the opportunity to raise the standard of living for impoverished populations is vast. SMRs can provide the energy to irrigate farmland, desalinate water, mine in isolated areas, run small manufacture plants and electrify whole villages and towns.

NTH:  How much will they cost?  Is there a containment structure in there?  Would that change the cost projections?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:   We are projecting that each HPM (the reactor unit) will run about $50 to $75 million, plus another $25 to $50 million for the balance of the steam to electricity generating plant. The containment structure is included in those costs.

NTH:  What was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s initial response when you approached them four years ago?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:  Contrary to legend, no one said “This can’t be licensed – go away you strange red-haired woman.” On the whole, their response was positive. Everyone was excited about the “Nuclear Renaissance” at that point.  True, they were not ready to deal with SMRs, but they were gracious and encouraging.

On Capitol Hill, however, the idea met with more resistance. I remember being laughed at by people who are now consultants to other SMR vendors. To their credit, however, some Senators such as Jim Webb and George Voinovich were visionary. They were intrigued and saw the potential for U.S. manufacturing and jobs and for getting military bases off the vulnerable common grid. Amazingly, the hardest sell was within the nuclear industry. Some of the big names in the nuclear industry that advocate for SMRs today were against them nine months ago. All they knew were big light water reactors and they could not envision anything else. Few had a clue about the role small FAST reactors could play.

NTH:  Babcock & Wilcox has since indicated it is designing an SMR and of course the Japanese, Koreans and Russians are in the hunt, too. With the amount of investment required to go through NRC licensing, can a small company really compete in this field?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: Of course or we wouldn’t be in it. At the IAEA convention last week in Vienna, Secretary Chu asked me why we were pursuing an LBE fast reactor design. I told him because we believe it is absolutely the best design on the planet for this size range. It’s safer, more efficient, and more appropriate for many types of applications. Every day new stakeholders come to understand its advantages. We have enough advocates and committed customers now that we have secured a place in the emerging mix of nuclear energy providers. Keep in mind that many of the biggest advancements in technology have come from small companies, even start-ups. Could anyone have envisioned Microsoft or Apple? They have created entire industries.

NTH:  You’ve talked about having other options, meaning that there may be other ways to get your reactor up and running without going through NRC approval. What are the possibilities abroad?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:  Certainly a design certification and manufacturing license from the NRC is crucially important to us. We are not trying to “go around” the NRC. But yes, there are other opportunities abroad. All countries have their own regulatory authority and we look forward to working with them.

NTH: How did this renewed effort with the NRC come about? Did you initiate it or did they?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: It was a mutual decision that the time had come and we were ready.

NTH: Considering the potential of nuclear energy and the degree to which public fears have been exaggerated, does it seem possible that 20 to 30 years hence someone could be selling nuclear “batteries” at Wal-Mart?

 DEAL-BLACKWELL:  I don’t see that happening in 30 years. Maybe 300 years! The nuclear industry moves at a conservative pace, particularly in this country. This is appropriate because the industry cannot make even the smallest mistake. Coal and oil-based technologies may cost many lives every year but when it happens, the public does not demand that we shut down all operations. But even the smallest incident with no fatalities or discernable injuries at a nuclear reactor can have dire consequences for the industry. No, retail sales of fission technology is not likely in the foreseeable future, but check back with me in 300 years and we’ll see who’s right!

NTH: Thanks very much for your time.

 

 

BECHTEL, B&W & SMRS: PERFECT TOGETHER

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

From the Editors:
The drive toward smaller modular reactors took a big step forward this week with word that Bechtel, the San Francisco engineering giant, is signing on with Babcock & Wilcox in a joint venture to develop them. The move would put huge momentum behind the effort to develop small designs and get them through approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

B&W announced its “mPower” reactor, a 125-MW design, last summer.  To date, however, the NRC has told vendors of small reactors, such as Hyperion, of California, that it in effect does not have time to look at their designs.

Bechtel, the most experienced nuclear construction and engineering firm in the world, has done work on 64 of the nation’s 104 operating reactors.  “They don’t do science projects,” Christofer Mowry, president of B&W, told the Wall Street Journal in indicating Bechtel intended to devote serious effort to the job.

“We’ve got 5,000 engineers with the word `nuclear’ on their resumes," Jack Futcher, president of B&W told Journal reporter Rebecca Smith.  “We think we’re the premier contractor.”  

The mPower reactor and others like could change the entire game of nuclear construction.  Instead of huge on-site efforts that take a minimum of five years, the reactors could be built in factories and shipped by rail to the site, where multiple units could be assembled like Lego blocks. The strategy introduces standardization, cuts construction costs and allows utilities to add additional capacity in bite-sized portions instead of betting $5-10 billion on a project that may not produce electricity for close to a decade. 

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu endorsed the SMR concept in a The Wall Street Journal editorial last April and suggested that American companies – more or less out-competed in the construction of giant reactors – might find a niche in the international market.  Even so, the Russians, Japanese and Koreans have already entered the field with small reactor designs.  With the glacial pace of NRC approval comparatively and the reluctance of American companies to become involved in the nuclear industry, it appeared that Secretary Chu might be overly optimistic.  Today the landscape looks a lot more promising.