Could Mini-Nuclear Reactors Power Developing World Villages?

By Eliza Strickland | November 11, 2008 11:18 am

mini nuclear reactorIt’s a device that could change energy options around the planet: A company called Hyperion Power Generation claims that its miniature nuclear reactors could power anything from water purifiers in developing world villages to oil extraction sites in the remote Arctic tundra to army outposts in the desert.

One reactor, which would cost about $25 million, would produce 25 megawatts of energy, enough to provide electricity for 20,000 average American-sized homes or a major industrial project. Daisy-chained, these micro-reactors, each one about twice the size of an average man, can supply enough electricity to power an entire small city or suburb [The Cutting Edge News]. The company says that its nuclear system is safe and clean, as it produces no greenhouse gases, and claims the reactors will be ready for mass production in five years.

Hyperion’s chief executive, John Deal, says the company already has 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 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 Guardian].

Hyperion’s nuclear reactors are about the size of a garden shed, and could be delivered by truck. To defuse safety concerns, the factory-sealed units will be buried underground, and will use a weak form of nuclear fuel that the company says could only be enriched into weapons-grade material by a nation with the most sophisticated nuclear technology. The system, which Hyperion refers to as a “big battery,” would need to be refueled every five to ten years, a process the company says it would deal with at its factory.

The company has competition in the brand new mini-reactor industry: Toshiba is reportedly working on a small-scale design for Galena, Alaska. NuScale Power, a startup spawned in the nuclear engineering department at Oregon State, was the first U.S. company to submit plans to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates all domestic nuclear power plants [Investor’s Business Daily].

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Image: Hyperion Power Generation

  • John

    Mini-nuclear reactors have been available literally off the shelf since 1967.

    They’re called Slowpoke research reactors designed and built by Canada’s AECL. They are the only nuclear reactors in the world licensed for unattended operation. Granted they are designed as Cyclotron replacements and are used to bombard samples with neutrons but they do produce heated water at 50 Celsius (135 Fahrenheit) which can in turn produce electricity with the help of Stirling Engines. They are inherently safe as temperatures higher than 50 C will shut down the chain reaction because the bubbles that form interfere with the neutrons. The reactors are available in sizes from 5 KW (the prototype) to 3.5 MW (Slowpoke III designed to provide heating water, may be 2.5 MW – don’t quite remember) but are most often 27 KW in size.

  • Cancer = Nuclear

    Read carefully:

    Thus, in July last year was published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine an epidemiological study conducted by scientists from

    the University of Alcala de Henares and Guadalajara’s Hospital in which he concludes that the risk of cancer increases linearly with proximity

    to the nuclear power Trillo and that the risk of having a tumor is 1.71 times higher in the environment closest to the nuclear power plant

    (within a radius of 10 kms. around it) than in the area enclosed within a radius 30 kms.

    In July 2001 was published in Environmental Health Perspectives a study by the Cancer Epidemiology Unit of the National Center for Epidemiology

    Carlos III Health Institute that concluded that there was an increased mortality from leukemia in the vicinity of the facilities of nuclear fuel


    Two years earlier, in 1999, the Carlos III Health Institute concluded that there was an incidence of multiple myeloma higher than normal in the

    vicinity of the Zorita nuclear power station in Guadalajara. This study was published in the October issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology,

    Biomarkers & Prevention. In this same area, and in 1987 the National Health Institute concluded that the rate of deaths from tumors of the

    digestive tract was between 3 and 4 times higher than the average of the Spanish State.

    In addition to these conclusive data, the studies of 1999 and 2001 from the Carlos III Health Institute also detected the existence of a fee
    Unexpectedly high of stomach cancer in people of both sexes in the area surrounding the nuclear plant Garoña. This increase, linked to the

    proximity to this facility, occurred in the period after the start of activity of the nuclear plant, after comparing with the situation prior to

    its entry into operation.

    Also, it was found that mortality from lung cancer showed a greater increase in the areas in the vicinity of 30 kms around the central Garoña,

    Zorita and Vandellos-I compared with national trends. The same situation occurred with respect to kidney cancer in La Haba, an area of uranium


    According to these studies, Garoña is the environment in which nuclear power has found a higher rate of mortality from leukemia in the

    population from 0 to 24 years, in a ratio higher than in the control populations beyond that radius. In the environment of other nuclear plants

    and facilities for uranium mining has been detected excess mortality from various types of cancer.

  • Jockaira Cabo San Lucas

    “Cancer=Nuclear” has not stated the entire health issue. Though proximity to nuclear devices is likely to cause health concerns, the dangers to health from conventional power generation by coal and oil are much more prevalent and more injurious, not to mention the pollution caused by coal and oil ash.

    In any case the use of these mini-reactors would be limited to very special occasions where the high cost of the power would be offset by other concerns.

    My electrical utility bill shows that I am being charged about 15¢ (0.15 US Dollars) for each kilowatt-hour of usage. This works out to 15 hundred-thousandths of a dollar for each watt. Because of the license under which the Utility Company operates, the cost of equipment procurement and operation is included in that charge, so no other costs are to be considered.

    From the article: “One reactor, which would cost about $25 million, would produce 25 megawatts of energy…”. This works out to One Dollar Per Watt, or $1000 per kilowatt. Of course, time would mitigate and amortize this cost, but I doubt that this mini-reactor would in the foreseeable future, be cost-competitive with conventional power generation.

    “Cancer=Nuclear” is doing nothing more than waving a red herring at our irrational fears of nuclear power generation. He does us all a disservice. His paranoia is obvious and makes one wonder how much he has been paid by the coal and oil industry to publish these statements.

  • CaboKarl

    $1,000/(kw*(8,760 hours/year)) = $0.11 / kwh in a year of operation


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