We all are accustomed here in Europe (old Europe!) to the hysterical noise that rises when talks about nuclear energy are made. It comes as a big relief that in other parts of the world at least some scientists and engineers have kept their reason and are intensively working on new reactor technologies that will be both save, tamper proof, secure, reliable and most important can use spent fuel. One always should keep in mind that traditional reactors use only 5% of the energy stored in the fuel rods containing enriched uranium. When these 5% are used, the rods have to be changed, stored away or reprocessed.
General Atomics is working on a smaller kind of reactor called EM2 (Energy Multiplier Module ). As the “Hyperion power Module” (now called Gen4 Module) of former Hyperion Power Company (now Gen4Energy) the aim is to build a self-contained module. The EM2 is rated at 240 MW, with a 70 MW prototype in the planning stage. The reactor will be of the well known gas-cooled type: gaseous helium will be pumped through the reactor core, heated up to approx. 850 °C and drive a fast (gas) turbine coupled to an electrical generator:
What makes the system so interesting and novel is that there will be a two stage operation:
First the EM2 core will be started using 12% enriched uranium and used fuel or depleted uranium (DU). After the initial U235 amount has been consumed in the “starter-part” of the core, enough fissionable material will have been created to switch over to a second part of the core where the nuclear reactions will continue and be fed nuclear waste..
(picture from GA presentation)
General Atomics plans a whopping 30 years time span of continuous operation without refueling or opening the reactor!
Small nuclear reactors should have a bright future, at least in regions of the world where reliable and non-intermittent energy remains mandatory.
Tags: general atomics