Wonder who will print this story in 7 more years?
The reactor, known as the Rapid-L, was conceived of as a power source for colonies on the Moon, New Scientist magazine says. But the 200 kilowatt reactor measures only six metres (20 feet) by two metres (6.5 feet).It uses molten lithium-6 as a coolant in a system which the researchers hope will automatically shut down if it overheats.Planning trouble“In future it will be quite difficult to construct further large nuclear power plants because of site restrictions,” Mitsuru Kambe, head of the research team at Japan’s Central Research Institute of Electrical Power Industry (CRIEPI) told New Scientist.“To relieve peak loads in the future, I believe small, modular reactors located in urban areas such as Tokyo Bay will be effective,” he said.Conventional nuclear reactors use solid rods to control the rate at which the nuclear fuel releases energy and thereby control the temperature of the reactor.
The rods absorb neutrons, the subatomic particles which keep the nuclear chain reaction going.
But they have to be lowered in and out of the reactor to control it. The Japanese researchers aim to make the process automatic by using molten lithium-6 instead.As the temperature rises in their reactor, the molten liquid expands and rises through tubes into the reactor core, absorbing neutrons and slowing the chain reaction to a safe rate.Mr Kambe was both optimistic and realistic about the future of his team’s work.“Rapid power plants could be used in developing countries where remote regions cannot be conveniently connected to the main grid,” he told the magazine, adding:“The success of such a reactor depends on the acceptance of the public, the electricity utilities and the government.”The reactor would still face the problems of waste transport and disposal associated with larger power stations.
Mini nuclear plants to
power 20,000 homes
£13m shed-size reactors will
be delivered by lorry
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. ‘Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,’ said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. ‘They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $2,500 per home.’
Deal claims to have more than 100 firm orders, largely from the oil and electricity industries, but says the company is also targeting developing countries and isolated communities. ‘It’s leapfrog technology,’ he said.
The company plans to set up three factories to produce 4,000 plants between 2013 and 2023. ‘We already have a pipeline for 100 reactors, and we are taking our time to tool up to mass-produce this reactor.’
The first confirmed order came from TES, a Czech infrastructure company specialising in water plants and power plants. ‘They ordered six units and optioned a further 12. We are very sure of their capability to purchase,’ said Deal. The first one, he said, would be installed in Romania. ‘We now have a six-year waiting list. We are in talks with developers in the Cayman Islands, Panama and the Bahamas.’
The reactors, only a few metres in diameter, will be delivered on the back of a lorry to be buried underground. They must be refuelled every 7 to 10 years. Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year