The nuclear industry is now dominated by giant electricity-generating power plants, but many of tomorrow's nuclear reactors will be small–some as Lilliputian as a refrigerator. They will power entire towns or even individual ships. Daniel T. Ingersoll, a senior program manager who studies small modular reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, predicts rapid growth for these mini-nukes–and big investment opportunities.
The potential of small nuclear plants has caught the attention of everyone from Bill Gates to giant Babcock & Wilcox. But perhaps the furthest along is Hyperion a company spun out of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Hyperion is now working with Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. and the China National Nuclear Corporation to turn Hyperion's innovative design into a tangible product that could be on the market by the end of 2011.
Gillispie traveled to China to negotiate an agreement with the CNNC and its subsidiaries to assess and construct the Hyperion design–following up on an existing MOU with the Chinese.
Gillispie already had an agreement with the Chinese to build a larger reactor for sale around the world as a power source for electricity and desalination, but during the discussions that led to that agreement, he learned that the Chinese were searching for a substitute for the diesel engines in cargo vessels.
The basic module is completely sealed and safe. Hooked up to a steam turbine, it produces 25 megawatts (MWe) of electricity, enough to power about 20,000 homes. But several of the refrigerator-sized modules can be stacked together, creating 50 MWe or 75 MWe or even 100 MWe power plants.
Gillispie has gotten strong interest in the reactor from more than 100 potential customers, ranging from India and Qatar to the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, which has actually passed a law specifying that Hyperion product will be used as a source of energy.
In order to sell the mini-reactors in the U.S, Hyperion needs to get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Gillispie expects that to happen within a few years, but in the meantime, there will be a good business marketing the product elsewhere.