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Michael Stuart Kelly

Now that's energy thinking...

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This is self-explanatory, but it should put the tree-huggers in quite a spin.

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes

John Vidal and Nick Rosen

Guardian

November 9, 2008

From the article:

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years.

Five years? This won't come in time to save Obama's second term.

Heh.

Michael

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This is self-explanatory, but it should put the tree-huggers in quite a spin.

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes

John Vidal and Nick Rosen

Guardian

November 9, 2008

From the article:

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years.

Five years? This won't come in time to save Obama's second term.

Heh.

Michael

A mini-fission reactor is almost an oxymoron. Aside from the reaction chamber with a limited amount of fissile material there is the shielding and the cooling as well as the automatic "scram" machinery in case of a run-away reaction. Then there is the matter of keeping the spent fuel in a safe condition until it can be disposed of safely (there is technology for that). Then there is the machinery to turn hot water or steam into electricity. Of the bulk of stuff in a fission reactor, two percent of it is hot and 98 percent is to keep it from killing you and actually making the electricity.

Bottom line: no mini fission reactors.

For fusion reactors it is much worse. Creating the conditions for maintaining a plasma at over one hundred million Kelvin requires major machinery (if it is ever to come about at all). Controlled fusion is about 30 years in the future where it has been for the last 50 years and almost certainly will be 50 years from now.

Bottom line: no mini fusion reactors.

When all factors are taken into consideration a small fission reactor that will fit in your basement (fat chance!) will produce electricity at a cost of a thousand dollars a kilo-watt hour. Some bargain, that is.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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As a scientist, I agree with Baal.

There are lots of half-assed ideas out there. I don't have a reference to this, but I recently read where the idea of nuclear-powered aircraft is being seriously considered again.

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If anyone is interested, I looked at the Hyperion site:

Hyperion Power Generation

I have only skimmed the material and it is admittedly aimed at the broad public, but maybe the scientific-leaning folks can point out the weak parts and explain why this won't happen.

Michael

There is hype but very little technical data. Not a hint of the thermodynamics of this reactor. To get power one must start with a high temperature and sink the heat to a low temperature . The efficiency of the plant is the difference bewteen the high temperature and the low temperature divided by the high temperature. The pictures give no hint of how the cooling will happen. To get mechanical work out of a heat engine some heat must be wasted. That is basic thermodynamics. Then there is the matter of fuel containment. Then there is the matter of the kind of generator that actually makes the electricity. Is it a steam turbine? Good. How hot is the steam? Where is the cooling apparatus?

And how can something the size of a "hot tub" generate enough steam to make 25 megawatts of electrical power? A fission plant does not generate electricity. It makes heat to turn water or other other heat transport (such as molten sodium) to heat water into superheated steam to turn a turbine and that is what makes the electricity. There has to be two heat transport circuits. The inner or closed circuit to carry heat to an open loop water system to make steam.

The major bulk of a fission plant is its heat exchange and cooling system. That was not shown in the promo.

When I read this promo, my bullshit detection gauge went off scale.

I have to see real technical specs to be convinced and that promo does not have them.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Yes, 25MW is totally garbage. Maybe they meant 25kW.

Since they say there are no moving parts, the electricity must be generated thermoelectrically, not steam. Has worked for some spacecraft.

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Here is their engineering department and invitation for people to receive more information if anyone is interested in seeing what technical details they provide to the public:

Hyperion Power Generation, Inc.
Engineering office:
2101 Trinity Drive
Suite R
Los Alamos, NM 87544

To request more information, email us now.
General information:
info@hyperionpowergeneration.com
OR call +1 (505) 216-9130 (USA)

(I put this in a code box to avoid spidering by search engines, since Hyperion stated they used Java in supplying this info for the same reason. The idea is to avoid spam.)

There is more contact information on their contact page.

Michael

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This company is a sophisticated fund-raising operation. The CEO has a degree in map making--I guess that's what "geospatial science" is--and the VP is into marketing. The next guy down the ladder has a BS degree in physics engineering. I'd guess the fourth is a glorified secretary. I don't think they'd ever dare try to take this turkey public, but will be satisfied with private turkey investors. If they had a good idea they'd need tens of billions in capital and a raft of Ph.D's in nuclear physics and engineering and a gaggle of lawyers to deal with the politics of it all. There isn't a legal jurisdiction in the whole USA that'd ever give them permission to install one of these reactors which they obviously will never build or be given permission to build. Las Vegas is pissed off at the idea of shipping nuclear waste through the city, so how are these folks going to get anybody's okay to ship a charged reactor anywhere, much less build a plant to make these suckers in the first place?

--Brant

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The original news article stated that Hyperion was leasing the technology from the USA government to do this.

Here is what I got off of the Hyperion site (in "About HPG"):

Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. (HPG) was formed to bring to market the unique Hyperion (formerly Comstar) small, modular, non-weapons grade nuclear power reactor invented by Dr. Otis “Pete” Peterson at the United States’ famed Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. Through the commercialization program at LANL’s Technology Transfer Division, HPG was awarded the exclusive license to utilize the intellectual property and develop a product that will benefit the U.S. economy and global society as a whole.

So I looked Dr. Peterson up. On a webpage of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, there is a write-up about this thing on a page characterized as "Technology Deemed Outstanding," albeit the description is still general. Here is the webpage and a quote:

Compact Reactor Technology Deemed Outstanding by Federal Laboratory Consortium

A consortium of federal laboratories has recognized a compact reactor technology developed by Dr. Otis Peterson of Los Alamos National Laboratory as revolutionary in the areas of homeland security and alternative energy.

The technology recognized is a self-stabilizing nuclear power source invented by Dr. Peterson. It is 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 technology was selected for its timeliness in response to today’s current threats and alternative fuel needs.

A conceptual drawing is also given, but it is not much of an improvement over what you get on the Hyperion site.

Michael

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The original news article stated that Hyperion was leasing the technology from the USA government to do this.

Here is what I got off of the Hyperion site (in "About HPG"):

Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. (HPG) was formed to bring to market the unique Hyperion (formerly Comstar) small, modular, non-weapons grade nuclear power reactor invented by Dr. Otis "Pete" Peterson at the United States' famed Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. Through the commercialization program at LANL's Technology Transfer Division, HPG was awarded the exclusive license to utilize the intellectual property and develop a product that will benefit the U.S. economy and global society as a whole.

So I looked Dr. Peterson up. On a webpage of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, there is a write-up about this thing on a page characterized as "Technology Deemed Outstanding," albeit the description is still general. Here is the webpage and a quote:

Compact Reactor Technology Deemed Outstanding by Federal Laboratory Consortium

A consortium of federal laboratories has recognized a compact reactor technology developed by Dr. Otis Peterson of Los Alamos National Laboratory as revolutionary in the areas of homeland security and alternative energy.

The technology recognized is a self-stabilizing nuclear power source invented by Dr. Peterson. It is 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 technology was selected for its timeliness in response to today's current threats and alternative fuel needs.

A conceptual drawing is also given, but it is not much of an improvement over what you get on the Hyperion site.

Michael

Where is this "nuclear power source?" The prototype? And how do you get the power out of the barn?

--Brant

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I went to the Los Alamos site. Just more PR-keep-us-funded-crap-for-we're-doing-great-PC-stuff. So is that consortium. No explanation of or reference to the science. It can be assumed there isn't any. Click on that "federallabs.org" link. It can't be found.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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I went to the Los Alamos site. Just more PR-keep-us-funded-crap-for-we're-doing-great-PC-stuff. So is that consortium. No explanation of or reference to the science. It can be assumed there isn't any. Click on that "federallabs.org" link. It can't be found.

--Brant

I have found a site with a list of pointers to advanced fission reactors;

Please see

http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/WebHom...ssionTechnology

In particular check out the breeder reactors and the very hight temperature design. The hotter the reactor the more efficient it is.

In all of the advanced designs the critical issue is disposal of the spent fuel in a safe manner.

For those of you who are light on the phsics of fission reactors please see:

http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/PhysicsOfFission

which will get you to the basic physics of the process.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I went to the Los Alamos site. Just more PR-keep-us-funded-crap-for-we're-doing-great-PC-stuff. So is that consortium. No explanation of or reference to the science. It can be assumed there isn't any. Click on that "federallabs.org" link. It can't be found.

--Brant

So it would seem that my bullshit meter might have been telling me the truth.

Generally a real technology has many support papers in the physics and engineering journals and there are plenty of papers on arxiv.org that one can read, if one has the background.

Given the latest push to get us off fossil fuel there will be many scams and shady propositions in that area. Remember the Cold Fusion bruhahah back in 1988?

I will give you a hint. Beware of any scheme which is announced in the popular press without a sound scientific basis published in the refereed journals or at least pre-printed in arxiv.org. The popular press is not the proper venue for announcing scientific breakthroughs. Such things should appear in -Science- or -Nature- first or perhaps in Phys Rev.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf

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I think it is too early to call it BS.

Los Alamos keeps a pretty tight ship on leaking classified technological information. As it should.

The world did not need to read the technical specifications of the atom bomb in the papers in order to watch it go boom. In fact, I remember some famous spy trials about providing enemy states with USA technology.

I prefer to wait and see more reports before I declare this invention to be forever and ever impossible here on earth.

Amen...

:)

Michael

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I think it is too early to call it BS.

Los Alamos keeps a pretty tight ship on leaking classified technological information. As it should.

The world did not need to read the technical specifications of the atom bomb in the papers in order to watch it go boom. In fact, I remember some famous spy trials about providing enemy states with USA technology.

I prefer to wait and see more reports before I declare this invention to be forever and ever impossible here on earth.

Amen...

:)

Michael

I want a nuclear power source for my home, alone. That small. Something that'll power 20,000 homes doesn't seem to cross the line for centralized power production and distribution to make much difference to what we now have. Note the absence of cost/benefit analysis. I don't have solar panels on my roof because I'd rather have the dollars in my wallet. The only benefit they are claiming is the benefit that can be claimed for gigantic nuclear reactors--no greenhouse gases, another wagon-load of horse manure. I tell you, this is all Los Aamos PC garbage with some jokers on the side trying to suck up what money they can. There is no political problem with power distribution from a big nuclear plant because all the nuclear stuff is at the plant. The enviros just try to stop the plants, not the power grid. But thousands of small power plants all around the country? That's like taking the nuclear football of power creation and including the distribution in all the God-damn lawsuits the enviros can bring. That's why this company can put out BS; the company's officers know it's not going anywhere; it can't. But they can pretend, pretend and pretend--and suck in a lot of money. Then--the truth. Sorry folks, but we can't proceed. Those nasty politicians won't let us. They'll never have to justify or really explain the "science" in all this shit.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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Brant,

If your scenario proves to be true and a person has a callous where his conscious should be, it sounds like it is a good time to invest in that company in some manner if he can get yearly returns. Then he can jump after the 4th year.

Michael

He can't jump unless the company goes public. It won't. If you invest in this company your money is stuck inside the company until then. There will be no then. The BS stage of these happenings is over. People are too burned to get burned again, by and large. But there are always some idiots willing to get in early. Those funds go to conferences in Barbados or Davos or simply evaporate over time in salaries and expenses. There is always the chance there will be a public offering, which I suspect is the self-delusional carrot the officers keep in front of them. That'd be an even bigger fraud--for all. There are no "yearly returns." Nearly the whole ball of wax, these days, is a company going public. In this particular case, the whole ball of wax may be Los Alamos PC PR please-keep-funding-us-Mr.-US-government; we make the right noises.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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I want a nuclear power source for my home, alone. That small. Something that'll power 20,000 homes doesn't seem to cross the line for centralized power production and distribution to make much difference to what we now have. Note the absence of cost/benefit analysis. I don't have solar panels on my roof because I'd rather have the dollars in my wallet. The only benefit they are claiming is the benefit that can be claimed for gigantic nuclear reactors--no greenhouse gases, another wagon-load of horse manure. I tell you, this is all Los Aamos PC garbage with some jokers on the side trying to suck up what money they can. There is no political problem with power distribution from a big nuclear plant because all the nuclear stuff is at the plant. The enviros just try to stop the plants, not the power grid. But thousands of small power plants all around the country? That's like taking the nuclear football of power creation and including the distribution in all the God-damn lawsuits the enviros can bring. That's why this company can put out BS; the company's officers know it's not going anywhere; it can't. But they can pretend, pretend and pretend--and suck in a lot of money. Then--the truth. Sorry folks, but we can't proceed. Those nasty politicians won't let us. They'll never have to justify or really explain the "science" in all this shit.

--Brant

The safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel is not a bullshit issue. It is genuine. That alone is why you will probably never see a nuclear heat generator in your house. And, as I have explained, generating heat is just the first step. The heat must be transferred to something like water to produce superheated steam to run a generating turbine. Regardless of how the heat is generated a superheated steam generating system is dangerous and it is bulky (nay massive). It will never fit in your basement. The only other alternative to making steam is to produce an ionic plasma and generate electricity by magneto-thermodynamic means. That is going to be quite massive and will not fit in your basement. In addition to which the only way any kind of fission technology is going to generate heat and electricity in an economic manner is if it is scaled way up. That means the smallest feasible fission generating system will produce hundreds of thousand of mW of power, much too large for individual use.

There is nothing wrong with a modular type fission generating system in which heat producing modules can be added as needed. Such units can be scaled up and are a better design than monoliths. But the smallest modular type fission unit is way too large for individual household power generating needs. If you want something that can be scaled down to an individual household you would need some kind of photovoltaic system or a wind turbine (assuming you have the land to build one). That is why the most feasible way of getting electric power is to hook up to a grid where electricity is distributed from large scale generating plants.

The principle behind all these constraints is the second law of thermodynamics. To get lots of mechanical energy you needs lots of heat at high temperature, most of which has to be cooled to the lowest ambient temperature and transported away. That is why nuclear fission plants have gigantic cooling towers. If you don't cool the heat you don't get mechanical work out of the system. That just thermodynamics 101. Even the star ship Enterprise has to have heat sinking to get motion through space (that is something Gene Rodenberry did not dwell on).

To all parties reading this: say this to yourself and click your heels three times: There is no getting around the second law of thermodynamics, no matter what the technology. That is one of the basic laws of nature. It can not be fiddled. Any thing that produces mechanical work or chemical reaction work requires a temperature reduction and exhausting of unconverted heat a a lower temperature than the source heat. God, Himself, is limited by this law.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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In reading the promo on this, they did state they had 100 orders. I'm going to assume that (1) this is a PR pitch, (2) this will somehow start the funding requirements to get the ball rolling?

I'm skeptical about no moving parts as Bob illustrated earlier.

~ Shane

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In particular check out the breeder reactors and the very hight temperature design. The hotter the reactor the more efficient it is.

Baal, you miscontrue a critical point, FAST breeder reactors are more efficient AT BREEDING fissile material the hotter they are. They are not more efficient in the sense that more of the energy is converted into usable electricity (except for the obvious physics principle that the greater the temperature differential the more power can be extracted) Fast Breeders are more 'efficient' because they can actually make much more fuel than they consume (this is how we manufacture plutonium) Since this design has a life span of 5 years, that is clearly not the case here. FAST Breeder reactors need complex cooling systems usually some form of molten metal. Thermal breeders, which breed more fissile fuel from fertile elements need only operate at the temperature of the reaction, and if the neutrons are *too fast* they actually will NOT create more fissile fuel, in other words, Thermal breeders are self regulating. There is nothing scientifically implausible in making a short lived self contained self regulating thermal breeder reactor.

Some more info on nuclear reactors and breeders for those interested. Most of the worlds uranium is Uranium 238. This does not sustain a fission chain reaction. Fissionable Uranium is Uranium 235, and makes up about .07% of the Uranium on earth. Enriched fuel rods are processed until they are made up of about 3% Uranium 235, and Uranium 235 is the isotope needed for a nuclear fission bomb. It's very rare and expensive.

However, if you hit Uranium 238 with a neutron, even one released from the fission event of Uranium 235, it ABSORBS the neutron, and turns into (after two intermediary steps with short half lives) Plutonium 239, which IS fissionable. If you hit Plutonium 239 with a neutron, it fissions and releases, on average 2.5 neutrons. Plutonium 239 can also be used in a nuclear fission bomb. Thus, if you shield a nuclear fission reactor with Uranium 238, which starts out with a supply of Uranium 235, you actually create fissionable Plutonium 239. This is what is referred to as a breeder reactor. Most U235 reactors utilize some of the newly bred plutonium anyway, usually generating a significant portion of their power from the bred fuel. A specifically designed reactor can be made to breed more Pu239 out of U238 than it actually consumes in U235, that is what is conventionally called a 'breeder' reactor (it makes more fuel than it consumes)

Since you can create a fissionable fuel out of Uranium 238, it is called a 'fertile' fuel. There is one other fertile element, Thorium, which exists in at about 10x the quantity that Uranium does. If you hit Thorium with a neutron, it turns into Uranium 233 (not 235) but which is also fissionable.

Thorium is perfect for a self regulating breeder reaction. Start with a small supply of U235 and the excess neutrons from that hit Thorium turning it into U233, which is then fissionable. Later neutrons hit the U233 and contribute to the sustained fission reaction. However, neutrons must be traveling slow enough to be captured by the thorium atom, if they travel too fast they can not be captured, and no new fuel is bred. So if the reactor generates too many reactions by heating up it slows the creation of new breeder fuel, thus creating a negative feedback loop centered on an optimal power output.

Such a reactor could indeed be made small enough to power a single house, though you wouldn't want to go anywhere near it because of the neutron radiation.

US reactors are light water reactors and tend to get about 20% of their power from bred fuel in the enriched rods, but much more of it is left in the rods and not fissioned. It is usually left there and disposed of as 'nuclear waste' which is just as asinine as it sounds. Politically the US moved away from breeder reactors under the Carter administration because it feared the creation of a 'plutonium economy' where nuclear reactors all over the world were generating thousands of tons of weapons grade plutonium and presumably shipping them and selling them to other reactors. Possibly a valid concern, but in most cases the reactor can be tuned to run a self sustaining breeding reaction, it only creates enough fuel to sustain an optimal reaction rate and power output. Also, the longer plutonium 239 is left in a reactor core, the more likely it is to become plutonium 240, which is fissile, but is not suitable for a nuclear bomb (because the fissile event is slower, it creates what is called a 'fizzle')

Since only less than 1% of Uranium is fissile, a breeder reactor could theoretical generate about 100 times as much power as a non breeder (Breeding regular uranium) add thorium into the mix and you are talking another 100 fold increase. Currently the US has about 120 operating nuclear reactors, consider that one single breeder reactor could generate almost as much power as all of those reactors combined, and use only the fuel of one single reactor.

India has some of the largest thorium reserves on the planet and are investing heavily in thermal thorium reactor technology. I wouldn't be surprised to see a small compact reactor like this article is talking about come out of there.

Nuclear waste is a non issue, first of all, much of US nuclear waste is fissionable Plutonium fuel. 2nd of all, conceptually, what is nuclear waste but something which is dangerous because it is radioactive. The question arises, is there anyway to artificially accelerate the radioactive decay rate of an element? Well, that's what a fission reaction is! hitting an element with a neutron, making it more unstable, and accelerating it's decay rate. The same thing can be done with all of the fission fragments. Though they can not sustain a fission chain reaction, all nuclear waste can be processed by hitting it with neutron radiation and forced to go through it's nuclear decay chain, ending up as lead or iron, generating heat in the process which can be used to make more electrical power. France routinely does this transmutation with their nuclear waste. In short, if you shield a nuclear breeder reactor with the waste fission fragments, you turn the waste into harmless elements. The only reason nuclear waste is a problem is because in the US we are forbidden legally and by pressure from moronic environmentalists groups to process waste like this.

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