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September 29, 2010

Hyperion Power Generation will meet tomorrow with the NRC to begin talk on regulatory review

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Tomorrow, after four years of effort, Deal-Blackwell and Hyperion Power Generation co-founders will sit down with NRC officials in Washington to begin discussing how the Commission might begin regulatory review for the nation’s first small modular reactor.

This month the Hyperion Power Generation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Savannah River National Laboratory to employ a Hyperion Power Module to power its energy park.


The Hyperion power generation uranium nitride reactor is probably the smallest of the small reactors now heading toward licensure in the U.S. At 70 MWthermal / 25 MWelectric the HPM is really in the class of “mini”-reactors. Each reactor unit is 1.5 meters in diameter and 2.5 meters tall – about the size of two residential hot tubs stacked together. We wanted it to be small enough to fit on one truck, which is important because the unit is sealed at the assembly plant. It’s completely assembled off-site and buried in the ground in a specially designed vault. After that, it’s not to be opened or refueled. The whole assembly, including the electricity-generating component, sits on less than an acre. The entire plant can be constructed in just a few months. At the end of its useful life, which is around 10 years, we take the entire sealed reactor back to the factory where it can be refueled. We’ve got one of the few business plans that doesn’t involve leaving spent fuel on the customer’s site.

The Soviet Union created submarines using lead-cooled fast reactors that were so fast the West was forced into revamping its own technology. A lot of inspiration comes from the Soviets’ Alfa class submarine but our design team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has made significant improvements on our own.

The HPM’s lead coolant is actually lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE), a mixture of 45 percent lead and 55 percent bismuth. It’s a liquid metal similar to the sodium in a sodium-cooled reactor except that it doesn’t have the disadvantages of sodium. Sodium burns on contact with air and reacts violently with water, while LBE does not.

LBE can operate at low pressure, which reduces the need for complex, emergency-coolant injection safety systems in high-pressure reactors. The chance of pipe rupture and loss of coolant accidents are reduced significantly. Also LBE has a much higher boiling temperature (1670o C) compared to sodium (883o C), which provides greater safety margins for coping with abnormal events.

Nuclear townhall question: How do you envision these reactors being deployed?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: Primarily for mining operations, manufacturing facilities, and military bases in the U.S. There is a potential for Homeland Security/ Emergency Response use as well. Overseas, the sky is the limit. With so much of the planet still without electricity, the opportunity to raise the standard of living for impoverished populations is vast. SMRs can provide the energy to irrigate farmland, desalinate water, mine in isolated areas, run small manufacture plants and electrify whole villages and towns.

NTH: How much will they cost? Is there a containment structure in there? Would that change the cost projections?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: We are projecting that each HPM (the reactor unit) will run about $50 to $75 million, plus another $25 to $50 million for the balance of the steam to electricity generating plant. The containment structure is included in those costs.




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