A nuclear reactor the size of a shed

Nuclear plants are usually huge, but the HPM fits on a truck

A nuclear reactor the size of a shed

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: a nuclear power plant roughly the size of a garden shed that can be delivered on a tractor-trailer and provide electricity for 20,000 homes. But according to John “Grizz” Deal, president of Hyperion Power Generation in Los Alamos, N.M., the Hyperion Power Module (HPM) is for real. His company, which started up two years ago, plans to produce the reactor within five years and he already has an order from TES, a Czech generator company, for six units.

Deal says the idea for the HPM came from nuclear physicist Otis Peterson, who began to work on it in the mid-1990s at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Peterson built on existing nuclear technology to create the heat source, then refined it with heat transfer plates and pipes, allowing the unit to power a steam generator.

The result is a mini-reactor that is safe, factory-sealed and contains no weapons-grade uranium. The units only need to be refuelled once every six or seven years and they cost about US$30 million each. They’re designed to be buried 10 m underground, encased in cement and lead. “This is not your father’s nuclear reactor,” says Deal.

The original plan was for a mini-reactor that could power water filtration systems in Africa, but now Hyperion is looking to other markets, such as the military and the Alberta oil sands. Projects in the oil sands currently “use natural gas to create steam to melt bitumen to get the heavy oil out, and it’s very expensive and inefficient,” Deal says. “Our solution is 80 per cent cheaper.” The only problem, he says, is that companies like Shell and Chevron are afraid of the “N word.”

Currently, Hyperion is looking for plant locations in eastern Europe and Japan. Deal says he’s even considering an offer from a government contractor to locate in Newfoundland. Plant construction, however, is still at least a couple of years away.

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