26 November 2007

Community-Scale Nuclear Power--Appropriate Technology for the Nuclear Age?

Bury this hot-tub sized nuclear-decay battery in an underground vault, connect it via heat-exchanger with a high-efficiency steam turbine, and use the 27 Megawatts of heat to provide power for 25,000 homes.
The company Hyperion Power Generation was formed last month to develop the nuclear fission reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory and take it into the private sector. If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors.

Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn’t like to think of its product as a “reactor.” It’s self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator.

...“The lab [ed: LANL] is doing a lot of work on oil shales and oil sands, but there’s no way to get power to those facilities,” Blackwell says. “So, this nuclear battery would be brought in and that would provide the power to run a small city of industrial use.”

Blackwell also envisions that the battery could be used at military bases, as well as in the developing world, where poverty is a product of a lack of electricity and clean drinking water. This week, Hyperion meets with its first potential clients, but Blackwell hopes to approach the United Nations and international humanitarian groups.
Santa Fe Reporter

Antinuclear activists and other naysayers say that it could never work, and even if it could, it would be "wrong." But atomic batteries have a long history of reliable service in space probes and other critical uses. Using such a battery (or small-scale reactors) for in situ recovery of oil shale and tar sands also makes sense.

If you are planning your large scale TEOTWAKI retreat, geared to provide a haven for individuals with the ability to "jump-start" civilisation after a large-scale disaster--this nuclear battery may be the reliable power supply you have been looking for.

With reliable power, a population could thrive underground, undersea, on/beneath polar ice, or in the starkest desert (even in nuclear winter conditions). Using aeroponic food-growing technology, artificial lighting, drilled or melted water supply, sophisticated filters etc. etc. small to medium communities of many types could find a way to develop in relative isolation.

Better, safer, more reliable ways to use nuclear decay to power civilisation (or civilisation's "restart") are coming. Anti-nuclear luddites of limited cognition and competence are a dime a dozen--being mass-produced by modern "educational" systems and pop culture. But just as many "gray" and "black" market economies inevitably exist alongside the mainstream economy, the same is true for intellectual and philosophical streams of thought. It is highly questionable whether our "dumbed down" society could restart civilisation after a global catastrophic event.

Brian Wang expands on the "nuclear battery" concept, and discusses ways it could be used to speed up the trip to Mars.

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