Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hyperion reveals design details of its 25 MW reactor

Firm kicks-off effort to prepare a submission to the NRC for safety review

hyperion-nuclearUpdate 11/24/09 (below)

Hyperion Power Generation, which is designing a small, 25 MWe, nuclear reactor, revealed design details Nov 18 (slides) about the company's product at the winter meeting of the American Nuclear Society taking place in Washington, DC.

This is the first release of reactor design information by the company. It marks the kick-off of the firm’s pre-application process with the NRC for safety analysis review that leads to a reactor design certification decision by the agency.

No matter where, globally, Hyperion plans to build their reactor, the NRC certification is a critical success factor because the agency’s regulatory review is considered to be the “gold standard” by other countries.

According to John Grizz Deal, Hyperion CEO, the firm plans to submit its design to the NRC in late 2010 or early 2011. Hyperion technical staff said the NRC learning curve is a challenge since it is not a light water reactor.

“We hope that it will not be too hard for them to understand our design. We choose technologies for fuel and fuel cladding that are well understood from a safety perspective.”

Design details

design toolsThe sealed core, which is good for up to 10 years, does not require refueling at the customer site. Instead, the entire mechanism is replaced by a new one. The first use of the reactor at a customer site will be to produce electricity. The planned output of the reactor will be 25 MWe. Other applications include process heat and power for remote military applications. The company claims to have numerous customers lined up to buy the units.

Features include;

* Each unit will generate approximately 70MWt and 25MWe – enough to power 20,000 average American homes.

* The temperature of the secondary loop is 450-500 F. The secondary loop is a liquid metal circuit to produce steam so that there is no contact between the primary reactor and water in any form.

* Overnight costs are estimated by the firm to be $2,000 - $3,000 per KW capacity. The bottom line market goal is to generate electricity for < US$0.10 per kWh anywhere in the world.

* The reactor, which measures 1.5 x 2.5 meters, can be transported by truck to a customer site. Connections to a secondary loop, turbine, and transmission lines increases the footprint, but not by much.

Hyperion Reactor Information

Hyperion Reactor Overview 1

* Operation is limited to reactivity adjustments to maintain constant temperature output and it has much fewer in-core components than a light water reactor. Hyperion claims that operational reliability is enhanced by the reduction of moving mechanical parts. Staffing will be at least two people at all times to comply with NRC requirements.

The reactor is intended to meet requirements for dedicated power by hospitals, factories, foundries, government centers, water treatment, or irrigation and desalinization. Resource intensive uses at remote sites include mining and oil production & refining. Military facilities that cannot compromise tactical readiness relative to having enough electricity may find the small footprint of the reactor and ease of transport to be of interest.

Safe shutdown

The reactor has two shutdown systems which provides redundancy. In event of a problem, there is a space in the center of the core into which the operator can rapidly dumped marble size boron pellets which will lead to rapid shutdown of the reactor.

Hyperion Plan Review of Active Core

Hyperion plan view of active core

Once reactor comes to end of fuel cycle, in about 5-10 years, it takes two years to cool down via air circulation. Then the entire reactor can be removed for disposition. Ideally, a customer will have two setups for these reactors so that one slot is empty at startup of the first one. When it’s done, you put the new one in the empty space, and let the old one cool off in place for two years. Then the customer can arrange for Hyperion to remove it. It gives new meaning to the term “plug and play.”

Future fuel fabrication plans

Fuel will be enriched to between 15-19.6% because this small reactor needs more highly enriched fuel to get power levels to point of economic value. Fuel is a uranium nitride alloy. No fuel has been fabricated or tested so far. A system engineer at Hyperion said in an interview INL’s ATR is an option for testing fuel. Other international sites (unnamed) are also interested if ATR is not available. The firm’s goal is to verify that fuel meets requirements for higher burn-up rates.

Hyperion said in October it plans to build a factory to make the reactors in the UK. CEO Deal is making a simultaneous announcement there about design details this week. Nuclear Engineering International Magazine published a technical update 11/19/09.

Update 11/24/09

Like everyone else, I was surprised by the change in fuel types. My report on Idaho Samizdat referenced above is based on telephone interviews on 11/16/09 with technical staff at Hyperion and with CEO John Deal.

Note also that Hyperion's technical staff told me explicitly that no fuel has been fabricated or tested. I've since been told by an expert in the matter that Los Alamos, which is supplying technical expertise to Hyperion via CRADA, has in fact done work with this fuel type.

See also
R&D work done at UC Berkeley in 2002 and paid for by the US Department of Energy.

The change in the fuel type for Hyperion is based on a decision by the company to go with a fuel type that it believes will have a better chance of passing regulatory review.

At the ANS winter meeting 11/18/09, M. Mayfield of NRC characterized both Hyperion's design and the Toshiba's 4S as "fast reactors." See my
additional reporting on small reactors from ANS for comparisons between small LWRs and the two fast reactors.

The Hyperion design is very similar to the Soviet KLT-40S. This 25 MW reactor has been used in Russian subs and ice breakers. The design has a 10-12 year cycle after which the reactor is repalced and the old one decommissioned.

Prior coverage on this blog

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Anonymous said...

It supposed to be a TRIGA type of reactor fueled by uranium hydride (practicly meltdown proof). And this turned out to be "just" a Lead-Bismuth Reactor. Furthermore it seams to me it's a fast reactor. If I remember correctly uranium nitride fuel occurs in the context of sodium fast reactors and lead fast reactors. The only worse thing, from propaganda point of view, would be to announce that it's a plutonium breeder (whitch I'm afraid it is). Though I'm not against fast breeders I feel a little dissapointed by the company.


Rod Adams said...

Lots of reason for cautious optimism until you get to the part that says "No fuel has been fabricated or tested so far."

That is a very long pole in the tent. Fuel development and testing programs can take a decade or more, especially with the limited capacity of the ATR. Perhaps the Russians can help provide additional access to testing reactors.

Kirk Sorensen said...

To T.K. -- anything with hydrogen in the fuel isn't going to be a fast-spectrum reactor--hydrogen is too good a moderator.

Flagg707 said...

@TK: Uh, you do realize that any reactor anywhere using U238 "breeds" Plutonium to some degree, right? That the mixture of plut isotopes makes it close to useless for bomb material, especially considering the long run times envisioned for this. That the plut helps extend the useful life of the fuel and helps reduce waste sizes? Right?

What exactly was your point? That a passively safe reactor that can take the place of polluting diesel generators to provide dispersed power is bad thing?

@Rod: Amen to the worries about the timeline on fuel testing experiments. I imagine they'll have to go elsewhere than ATR as the paper exercises there would probably take two years before they even got around to scheduling the coupons.

David Walters said...

It the space provided in the center of the core is for Boron control pellets, it assumes that an operator 'exists' or is stationed, at least Dan according the way you wrote this. I'm assuming the operator in question is on the power plant side, where the generator/turbine set exists.

How is heat removed? are there vents for hot water/steam/gas?



Kirk Sorensen said...

Oops, my mistake...I was reading too fast and read "uranium nitride" as "uranium hydride".

Hyperion, what happened to your hydrides? You really do have a fast reactor configuration now. I don't know much about nitride fuel but from what I remember it is quite difficult to fabricate. The N-14 in the nitride will also convert to C-14 over time, although I'm not sure if that happens much in the fast spectrum.

Kirk Sorensen said...

Flagg707, in the fast spectrum plutonium fission is favored over plutonium neutron absorption, meaning that the isotopic quality of the plutonium formed through breeding will be and stay quite high. Dropping one of these things in an African village, with a core full of weapons-grade plutonium cooling down for a few years, seems to me to be a pretty bad idea.

myatom said...

Thanks, Dan for this Hyperion presentation!
do you mind I use it in my blog like this http://myatom.lj.ru/23364.html? If you got any objection - myatom@mail.ru

In fact it is a bit disappointing opening of season) They prepared us for something abs. extraordinary

if somebody knows:
- is it a natural circulation of PbBi in first and second?
- what is a site size? Is it really compact?
- where is hydride?!

It seems it comparable with Russian SVBR project, but SVBR use UO2 fuel. And it also a paper reactor)

Friakel Wippans said...

Oh, OK. I see I'm not the only one who thought that Hyperion was based on TRIGA fuel or a variation.

Max Epstein said...

Kirk, Hyperion sent out an email announcing the launch design that explained departing from the original TRIGA concept to speed regulatory approval. I wonder if the plans would revert if Alexander and Webb got those extra funds for NRC SMR review. From the email...

"In response to market demand for the HPM, we have decided on a uranium nitride-fueled, lead bismuth-cooled, fast reactor for our 'launch' design," said John R. Grizz Deal, Hyperion Power's CEO.
The design that Hyperion Power intends to have licensed and manufactured first will include all of the company's original design criteria, but is expected to take less time for regulators to review and certify than the initial concept created by Dr. Otis "Pete" Peterson during his tenure at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "We have every intention of producing Dr. Peterson's uranium hydride-fueled reactor; it is an important breakthrough technology for the nuclear power industry," noted Deal. "However,... our clients do not want to wait for regulatory systems around the globe, to learn about and be able to approve a uranium hydride system... As we construct and deploy this launch design, we will continue to work towards licensing Dr. Peterson's design."

Anonymous said...

@Flagg707: I do realize that U238 turns to plutonium in any kind of reactor, but even though breeding ratio of next generation LWR's is 0.7-0.8 they are not called plutonium breeders by the anti-nuke community. However classic Lead-Bismuth Fast Reactor with 15-20% enrichment (quietly substituted by Hyperion for original TRIGA reactor) is going to be announced by the anti-nukes as a "plutonium breeder" even though it will rather be a burner. In my opinion Hyperion will not win this battle.


Flagg707 said...

@Mr. Sorensen: Agreed that Pu fission is favored in the fast spectrum. That said, there is that resonably big resonance in the epithermal area for capture by Pu-239 and wouldn't the long run times lead to a lot of Pu-240? Plus, the separation from the nitride would seem to be tough for potential proliferators.

As a pathway to getting NRC more comfortable with small reactor designs and new ideas, this seems like a good path. Get them out of their LWR box and who knows, maybe they'd be interested in a Molten Salt reactor some day...

@T.K.: I misunderstood your earlier point. I do see the concern over the PR aspect of this. Not sure how to avoid it with any of the small-reactor designs that have to have long fuel life to work.