A Nuclear Hot Tub in Your Backyard

There are many who think that nuclear power has a major role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; there are others who say that the cost and size of nuclear plants and the risks involved outweigh the gains. But what if there was a small, self-regulating and safe reactor design that could be buried and left alone to produce enough power to run 25,000 homes for five years before you have to "change the battery? "

That is what Dr. Otis Peterson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory claims to have done. It is not the first self-regulating and supposedly carefree reactor; CANDU made the slowpoke in the 60's and the Chinese and South Africans are building pebble bed reactors that are supposedly safe.

Los Alamos describes Dr Peterson's reactor as "a compact device capable of generating high levels of thermal power and is self-regulating to a constant temperature of operation. The thermal stability of the power module is built into the design and is achieved without any mechanical moving parts or other external controls. The constant temperature characteristic 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 of approximately 10 megawatts of electricity. The absence of mechanical moving parts should make the reactor nearly maintenance free for months or years."

The Santa Fe Reporter is a little more colourful in its description:

"The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. It's shaped like a sake cup, filled with a uranium hydride core and surrounded by a hydrogen atmosphere. Encase it in concrete, truck it to a site, bury it underground, hook it up to a steam turbine and, voila, one would generate enough electricity to power a 25,000-home community for at least five years."

Dr. Peterson set up Hyperion Power Generation to produce the unit, and prefers to call it a " 'drive' or a 'battery' or a 'module' in that it's so safe,Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."

Others are not so sure: "This whole idea is loony and not worthy of too much attention," Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello says. "Of course, factoring in enough cronyism, corruption and official ignorance and boosterism, it's possible the principals could make some money during the initial stages, before the crows come home to roost."

Certainly their lame website does not inspire confidence, starting with hyperbole like "A veritable showcase of U.S. innovation and global leadership in the coming energy crisis, the Hyperion Hydride Reactor is providing the world with direct evidence of the commitment of the U.S. Government to exploiting the benefits of nuclear power and for putting nuclear research back on track, just in time to prevent the devastating energy shortage from the end of the oil age." and recommending a book Power to save the world which asserts that "a stroll through Grand Central Terminal exposes a person to more radiation than a walk of equal length through a uranium mine; that average background radiation around Chernobyl and in Hiroshima is lower than in Denver"

Still, wouldn't it be lovely if we could have one of these babies in every neighbourhood, cooking away making enough power and heat to keep our way of life going without carbon. Or maybe not. ::Hyperion Power via ::Santa Fe Reporter

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