Hyperion Power Generation issued a press release on August 12, 2008 announcing that their first customer had signed a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase 6 Hyperion Power ModulesTM (HPM), which the company describes as “a small, compact, transportable, nuclear power reactor”.
Each HPM will be priced at approximately $25 million. The company did not disclose an expected shipping date for the first HPM, but the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently lists their scheduled manufacturing license review as starting in 2012 with an projected completion sometime in 2015. (Ref – Periodic Briefing on New Reactor Issues dated February 20, 2008 – PDF.)
Hyperion Power Generation’s web site is a bit shy on the details of the design, which is to be expected. The site’s evident goal is to attract interested customers using rather conventional marketing techniques; no one will get involved in the purchase of even a “small” nuclear reactor without serious reviews of significantly more detailed technical materials.
After all, each module costs roughly $25 million (when ordered in significant quantities) and will supply enough heat to produce about 25 MW of electricity when connected to an efficient steam turbine cycle. Those are small numbers in the nuclear power world, but still significant to most businesses and small towns.
I am sure that the company will provide those details to serious inquirers who are willing to sign agreements to protect the information. As an early stage technology innovator, it would not be in Hyperion’s best interest to share too many technical details with the online world – which includes their competitors.
Hyperion’s marketing materials describe the Hyperion Power Module as a “battery”, but I think the company is reaching a bit with that analogy. Unlike a battery, an HPM is not a source of electricity that can simply be plugged into a circuit, it is a source of heat. Just like the heat released by burning fossil fuels, the heat produced by an HPM must be captured, focused and converted into motion and then into electricity typically through the use of the same kinds of heat engines available for converting fossil fuels into electricity.
Still, the concept is intriguing and the developments worth watching.
Here is a comparison to help put the system’s potential into perspective. A single truck can deliver the HPM heat source to a site. The device is supposed to be able to produce 70 MW of thermal energy for 5 years. That means that the truck will be delivering about 10.5 trillion BTU’s to the site. Buying enough natural gas at today’s New York City Gate price of $8.55 per million BTU (according to my favorite energy commodity price web site for August 14, 2008) would cost $90 million.
That is more than 3 times as much as the announced selling price for an HPM, but the advantage does not stop there – the HPM is targeted for places where there are no gas pipelines to deliver gas, so natural gas is not available at any price.
Instead, it would be better to compare the HPM to diesel fuel, which currently costs about 2 times as much per unit of useful heat as natural gas and still requires some form of delivery for remote locations. In some places, fuel transportation costs are two or three times as much as the cost of the fuel from the central supply points.
In certain very difficult terrains, or in places where there are people who like to shoot at tankers, delivery costs can be 100 times as much as the basic cost of the fuel.
As one of my heroes would say, one more thing. The HPM, like other fission heat sources, does not release any pollutants to the environment. After five years of operation, all of the waste products would still be sealed up ready to be picked up by a truck and taken to a company or government owned storage location.
Image by permission of Hyperion Power Generation all rights reserved
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I love and respect our common environment, but I have a fatal flaw in the eyes of many Environmentalists - I am a huge fan of atomic energy. Reduce, reuse and recycle have been watchwords for me since my father taught me that raising rabbits is a great way to turn kitchen scraps into fertilizer for backyard fruit trees and vegetable gardens. We built a compost heap together in about 1967, when I was 8 and when Earth Day was a mere gleam in some people's eye. During my professional career, I have served in several assignments on nuclear submarines including a 40 month tour as the Engineer Officer of the USS Von Steuben. In 1994, I was awared US patent number 5309592 for the control system for a closed cycle gas turbine. I founded Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. in 1993, started Atomic Insights in 1995 and began producing the Atomic Show Podcast in 2006. I am currently an active duty officer (O-5) in the US Navy. I look forward to many interesting discussions.