It Ain’t Mr. Fusion, But It’ll Do For Now
I know what I want for Christmas! Instapundit links to a story about a new Toshiba MicroNuclear power plant, and backs up the news release with several versions of a story about Toshiba offering to provide a mini-nuke to Galena, Alaska. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that they’re talking about two entirely different units. The Galena unit is described as a 10MW liquid-sodium cooled reactor, about 50-60 feet tall and eight feet in diameter. This doesn’t include the heat exchanger, steam turbine and other ancillary equipment. This would appear to be similar technology to that being used on nuclear submarines. There are no moving parts in the reactor itself except for the coolant flowing in the piping.
The story initially linked by Glenn refers to a 200kW reactor, about 20 feet by six feet (again, sans heat exchanger, turbine and ancillary equipment, I’d imagine) that uses liquid lithium as its coolant. Ten megawatts is about 13,400Hp. Two hundred kilowatts is about 270Hp. A 200kW generator can produce about 800 amps at 240VAC, enough to power about 6-8 large homes. This thing is tiny. A 10MW plant would run a nuke sub well. A 200kW plant would run a fairly small pleasure boat, except the plant would be bigger than the boat.
The only problem I’ve got with either is the extreme reactivity of the coolants. Both sodium and lithium are extremely reactive, and burn violently when exposed to water. They’re also solids at “room temperature,” so I wonder about the warm-up process. The story says that the micro-reactor should be good for 40 years before needing refueling, and it should produce power at about 5¢/kWH – I’d assume that’s the operating cost, not the amortized capital cost. No mention of a price tag is given, and there is nothing about the unit on Toshiba’s Nuclear Power business unit web page.
Still, I think it’d be cool to have one. Just the thing to power up the backyard synchrotron!