Hyperion: Nuclear In A Box

Everything is going portable these days, but . . . nuclear reactors? Hyperion Power Generation, a startup based in Santa Fe, N.M., is working on a self-contained compact nuclear power reactor unit that it says is “about the size of a typical backyard hot tub” (a fun but uncomfortable analogy). This morning, the venture and private equity firm Altira Group officially said it has backed Hyperion with an undisclosed round of funding.

Hyperion calls its device a “cartridge” reactor or “nuclear battery.” Because the device is small, portable and self-contained, the company says it can be delivered where it is needed and then sent back to the factory for refueling every five years. That makes it a good fit for remote, rural locations that are disconnected from the power grid.

The technology can also bring down the cost of nuclear power significantly, says the company — a 30 percent reduction over traditional nuclear in capital costs and a 50 percent reduction in operating costs.

Hyperion says the device’s self-contained and portable design also makes it safer. Because it isn’t meant to be opened until it’s sent back to the factory, it could cut down on human error. And because it is designed to be buried at the generation site, there could be less potential for tampering with it.

For a hot-tub-sized device, it can also deliver a nuke-sized amount of power: 70 megawatts (MW) of heat and 25 megawatts (MW) of electrical power via steam turbine. It you link the devices together you can produce a whole lot more, the company says.

With the growing fears over climate change and the rising cost of power, nuclear is starting to re-emerge as a clean energy option. Toshiba reportedly has a compact modular nuclear technology in the works as well. Most of the presidential candidates are touting nuclear as a promising option, and government funding has started to head that way. So has the private sector: Last month, power company NRG Energy announced the creation of Nuclear Innovation North America, a subsidiary that will develop and invest in nuclear projects, and it launched the new company with a $300 million investment from Toshiba.

Hyperion’s basically making use of mass production technology for nuclear. The company says it will deliver 4,000 units when it brings the product to market in the next few years. One question: Are we really ready to mass produce nuclear devices?