Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Is that a nuclear power plant in your backyard?

A company called Hyperion is taking technology developed at the Los Alamos labs and creating a small, self contained, nuclear power plant. These power plants are about as wide as a “bath-tub” (according to the website) and a little taller than a person.


These self contained power-plants fueled with a small amount of non-weapons grade radioactive material can provide electricity to 20,000 homes (25 Mwe). As these reactors have no moving parts, they are made to be placed in places that do not need constant access (think buried under ground), making them safe from unwanted human access (think bad people). Even if somebody were to try to get access to the radioactive material inside the reactor because it is non-weapons grade they could not be used to do bad things (like creating a bomb). These reactors are sealed at the factory and once sealed they are designed to never be opened again, making it easy to install and operate.

Worried about a melt-down are you? No worries here, the technology used by these reactors makes it so that if the reactor were to go into an uncontrolled reaction then upon exposure the core will cool down immediately. Also because the reactors are made to be buried in the ground, any leaked radiation would be absorbed before becoming dangerous to humans.


The cost…. a cool $25 million for the first generation reactors. These reactors are not made for individual homes but for cities. If pure electricity driven cars become a reality and popular then such reactors would be able to provide the electricity needed to power these cars. As they will be close to a city, they would cut down on the energy loss typically seen with power transmission from far away located power generation stations.

Finally, these units can be deployed to far away places (Artic science stations, remote communities and poor villages in places like Africa).

Read more about the technology from Dr. Pete’s LANL page - http://pearl1.lanl.gov/external/Research/peterson_FLC.html


Lots more information about the technology and company is available from their FAQ page:


What is Hyperion?
The Hyperion power reactor is a compact, self-regulating power module (also referred to as a battery or power drive) that complements existing nuclear reactors by filling a niche for moderately sized, distributed, or dedicated power applications

What role does Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have in the development of Hyperion?
Hyperion was invented by award-winning LANL scientist Dr. Otis Peterson while he was employed full-time by the lab. Under the Technology Transfer program for U.S. national laboratories, LANL will continue to own intellectual property relating to the Hyperion technology, but the rights to commercialization (introduction, manufacturing, licensing, production, marketing, and sales) of the product resulting from Dr. Peterson’s invention are held by Hyperion Power Generation, Inc., (HPG) a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based corporation. HPG is paying for the license to the rights to the intellectual property known as Hyperion (aka Comstar). HPG is also funding further research and engineering of the technology for Hyperion at LANL.

Who invented Hyperion?
Otis G. (Pete) Peterson, Ph.D. invented the self-regulating, inherently safe nuclear battery (reactor) during his tenure at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). In addition to designing the Hyperion reactor and co-inventing a biomass to fuel conversion process, his technical expertise has focused on wavelength tunable lasers, solid-state physics, and international science issues.

Among his many career accomplishments, Dr. Peterson holds six patents including those for his inventions of the cw Dye Laser and Alexandrite Laser, which earned R&D 100 awards. In the 1990’s he served as science attaché at the American Embassy in London for environmental preservation and non-proliferation issues. He has served as a group leader at LANL and in management positions at Eastman Kodak and Allied Chemical, where he co-founded the laser-induced chemistry program. He is also the co-founder of the laser isotope separation program (AVLIS) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in 1973, which continued for 26 years.

Honored with numerous awards and published widely, Dr. Peterson is a fellow of the Optical Society of America and his career publications have been cited over 1,200 times in technical literature. He was awarded his doctorate in Solid State Physics from the University of Illinois. Dr. Peterson is now the Chief Scientist for HPG. He has retired from full-time work at the lab.

Will Hyperion be secure?
The power-producing core of this module will be contained within multiple gas-tight chambers to insure absolute containment of all gases, along wth other contaminants in the unlikely event that a single chamber fails. Further, the module will be buried in the ground during its operational life. This will protect the module from almost all conceivable threats, natural or man-made, and make tampering extremely difficult. Additionally, active area security will be provided by the operator.

How does Hyperion work?
Unlike conventional designs, the proposed reactor is self-regulating through the inherent properties of uranium hydride, which serves as a combination fuel and moderator. The temperature-driven mobility of the hydrogen contained in the hydride controls the nuclear activity. If the core temperature increases over the set point, the hydrogen is driven out of the core, the moderation drops, and the power production decreases. If the temperature drops, the hydrogen returns and the process is reversed. Thus the design is inherently fail-safe and will require minimal human oversight. The compact nature and inherent safety open the possibility for low-cost mass production and operation of the reactors.

Who is currently funding the development of Hyperion?
The Hyperion project has been funded thus far by Denver-based Altira Group, one of the nation’s premier venture capital funds focused on alternative energy technologies, and by private individual investors.

Who is building the HPG company?
Santa Fe-based Purple Mountain Ventures, Inc. is supplying management services and personnel for Hyperion Power Generation.

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