Hyperion Power Generation Will Finally Reveal a Design for their Uranium Hydride Reactor on Wednesday Nnovember 18, 2009

At the highly anticipated Annual Winter Conference of the American Nuclear Society on November 18, Hyperion Power Generation Inc. will present the “launch” design for the Hyperion Power Module (HPM) to be deployed into the global market. Details will be revealed by Mark Campagna, Hyperion Power’s Chief Nuclear Officer, at the technical session on small power reactors at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Up to this point the general principles of what is being built have been revealed in the patent and the statement that the safety systems are based on the TRIGA research reactor.

This initial design of the Hyperion Power Module the company’s small, modular, nuclear power reactor (SMR) is the first of several reactor systems for Hyperion Power that have been in co-development with personnel at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and are planned for construction and deployment. Hyperion Power’s market goals include the distribution of at least 4,000 transportable, sealed, self-contained, simple-to-operate fission-generated power units that are euphemistically known as a “nuclear battery.”

Conceived at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the original design for the HPM was created by Dr. Otis (Pete) Peterson and then licensed to Hyperion Power Generation for commercialization under the laboratory’s technology transfer program. The company’s launch design will remain true to its design criteria and Dr. Peterson’s vision. Each unit will produce 70 MWt or 25 MWe— enough to provide electricity for 20,000 average American-size homes or the industrial equivalent. Approximately 1.5 meters wide by 2.5 meters tall, the units will be able to be transported by ship, rail, or truck and produce power for seven to ten years depending on usage. The HPM uses the energy of uranium fuel and meets all the non-proliferation criteria of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP).

Safety of this Liquid Metal Reactor

The patent for the reactor is here.

The liquid metal reactor takes advantage of the physical properties of a fissile metal hydride, such as uranium hydride, which serves as a combination fuel and moderator. The invention is self-stabilizing and requires no moving mechanical components to control nuclear criticality. In contrast with customary designs, the control of the nuclear activity is achieved through the temperature driven mobility of the hydrogen isotope contained in the hydride. If the core temperature increases above a set point, the hydrogen isotope dissociates from the hydride and escapes out of the core, the moderation drops and the power production decreases. If the temperature drops, the hydrogen isotope is again associated by the fissile metal hydride and the process is reversed. The chemical isotope splits chemically when it gets too hot. Just like water boils and turns into steam, you can design the water system to not exceed the boiling point of water. You would have to keep the water under pressure to force higher temperatures.

Adapting the University Triga Reactor Safety Systems

Triga reactors at General Atomics. Triga are teaching reactors that are safe enough to be operated by university students and walk-away safe. Over 60 Triga reactors have been built and some used for decades.

Here is an 11 page pdf history of the Triga reactors, which have had steady state power generation up to 16MW. There have been 25MW designs.

The safety systems will be similar but the reactor cores are different between the Triga (fuel rods in a pool type reactor) and the Hyperion Power Generation Uranium Hydride (liquid metal) reactor.

No Incremental Risk
If you were going to blow it up, it would take a lot of explosives -like blowing up a 15-20 ton buried bank vault. A lot of explosives to penetrate the concrete cask and then more to blow through however many feet of dirt it is buried under.

It would not add much to the cost to have sensors and digital video camera security to these things. So extreme tunneling, attempts to move it or blow it up should be easily detectable and action taken.

For the amount of effort and explosives it would take then just take those explosives and add radioactive material (available in mines and in less secure facilities and sources) and then put your dirty bomb anywhere. Thus there is no incremental risk.

The nuclear material is tougher to turn into nuclear bombs than using raw uranium, which a terrorist could get from natural sources (mines etc…). Again no incremental risk (we are adding no new risk as there is an easier existing path).

$25 million for each of the initial 25-30MWe reactors.
For getting oil from oil shale this system can supply heat instead of natural gas. Hyperion also offers a 70% reduction in operating costs (based on costs for field-generation of steam in oil-shale recovery operations), from $11 per million BTU for natural gas to $3 per million BTU for Hyperion. Over five years, a single Hyperion reactor can save $2 billion in operating costs in a heavy oil field. A lot of the initial one hundred orders are from oil and gas companies.

Here is a comparison to help put the system’s potential into perspective. A single truck can deliver the HPM heat source to a site. The device is supposed to be able to produce 70 MW of thermal energy for 5 years. That means that the truck will be delivering about 10.5 trillion BTU’s to the site. Natural gas costs about $7 per million BTU which would would cost $73 million.

That is about 3 times as much as the announced selling price for an HPM, but the advantage does not stop there – the HPM is targeted for places where there are no gas pipelines to deliver gas, so natural gas is not available at any price.

Instead, it would be better to compare the HPM to diesel fuel, which currently costs about 2 times as much per unit of useful heat as natural gas and still requires some form of delivery for remote locations. In some places, fuel transportation costs are two or three times as much as the cost of the fuel from the central supply points.

In certain very difficult terrains, or in places where there are people who like to shoot at tankers, delivery costs can be 100 times as much as the basic cost of the fuel.

Scaled Up

Initially these units will be in remote areas near oil sand projects and they will not be directly under people’s houses. Do people live directly over power transformers or oil refineries ? The first few thousand can be placed on the site of existing nuclear and coal plants which have a few square miles of space. Even if there eventually there was one for every twenty thousand or ten thousand homes, they would be situated in some industrial zoned area. For eastern europe and island developments, the units will be sited several hundred meters from where people are living.

Three factories from a small company are scheduled to produce 4000 of these 15 ton reactors with each using 100-200 kg or so of uranium every 5-10 years. Make three hundred factories and produce 400,000 of these 15 ton reactors every five years. 16,000 tons of uranium per year (a fraction of what we now use for light water reactors). Produce 10 TWe of power. Currently the world uses about 15 TWe of electricity. This system could provide virtually carbon and pollution free energy.

Reprocess the football size waste that is removed at the end of each 5-10 year cycle. And over the course of 15 years develop factory mass produced molten salt reactors for 99% efficiency use of the uranium or thorium.

After 50-100 years each of the units themselves would need to be decommissioned. If there were 80,000 per year in 50-100 years then 1.6 million tons of material to handle each year. This is far less of an issue than the billions of tons of CO2 and particulates from coal, and less of an issue than the mercury, arsenic and toxic metals which are often not contained or the bits of Uranium and Thorium in the coal which go up the fuel stacks at 20,000 tons/year.

This site has provided extensive past coverage of the uranium hydride reactor

Uranium hydride reactor update April 2008

Uranium hydride reactor could blunt peak oil

Generating heat to extract oil from the oilsands.

Powering Vasimr rocket engines for fast travel inside the solar system

Are disposable reactors a safe option

In the link, uranium hydride could blunt peak oil, this site has reviewed the patent for this reactor.

They use 4.9% enriched uranium. Fissile fuel burnup of at least 50% should be achievable with adequate design. This about 450 gigawatt days per ton of uranium or thorium. This is about ten times more efficient than current nuclear reactors. There would half as much left over uranium (unburned fuel)

It’s fuel lasts for about 5 years. Other reactors also have re-fueling. In this case, refueling is done by digging up the reactor if needed and then having the manufacturer perform the refueling. In between there are no people operating the reactor because it is self-regulating. The manufacturer separates about a football size amount of material when taking the used fuel out.

It’s parts

is basically a hot tub full of uranium hydride with some hydrogen and some heat exchange rods.

The right tub of materials regulates itself while generating electricity