Small, Safe Nuclear Reactor

It looks like someone has come up with a nuclear power generating plant that’s just the right size.

The Galena design is part of a new generation of small nuclear reactors that can be built in a factory and transported by barge, truck or helicopter. A federal study, funded at Stevens’ request and published in May 2001, found they are inherently safe and easy to operate, resistant to sabotage or theft, cost effective and transportable.

Toshiba Corp., the Japanese electronics giant, calls its reactor the 4S system: super-safe, small and simple.

Washington, D.C., attorney Doug Rosinski, who represents Toshiba, calls the reactor a “nuclear battery,” although it has nothing in common with the typical AA cell. The power comes from a core of non-weapons-grade uranium about 30 inches in diameter and 6 feet tall. It would put out a steady stream of 932-degree heat for three decades but can be removed and replaced like a flashlight battery when the power is depleted, he said.

The reactor core would be constructed and sealed at a factory, then shipped to the site. There it is connected with the other, nonnuclear parts of the power plant to form a steel tube about 70 feet long with the nuclear core welded into the bottom like the eraser in a pencil, Rosinski said. The assembly is then lowered into a concrete housing buried in the ground, making it as immune to attack or theft as a missile in its silo.

The reactor has almost no moving parts and doesn’t need an operator. The nuclear reaction is controlled by a reflector that slowly slides over the uranium core and keeps the nuclear fission “critical.” If the reflector stops moving, the reactor loses power. If the shield moves too fast, the core “burns” more quickly, yielding the same amount of power but reducing the reactor’s life, Rosinski said.

I like this. I like this a lot. When you consider the environmental risks involved in transporting all the diesel fuel now used to generate power for only a few hours a day in these remote Alaskan villages you can quickly see how this nuclear reactor can be deemed very environmental friendly.