Hyperion Power Generation: Wikis


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Hyperion Power Generation, Inc.
Type Private
Founded Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Headquarters Santa Fe, New Mexico
Key people John R. Deal, CEO
Otis G. Peterson, Chief Scientist
Industry Nuclear power
Website www.HyperionPowerGeneration.com

Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. is a corporation formed to construct and sell several designs of relatively small (70 MW thermal, 25 MW electric) nuclear reactors, which they claim will be modular, inexpensive, inherently safe, and proliferation-resistant. According to news coverage, these reactors could be used for heat generation, production of electricity, and other purposes, including desalinization. Specifically, the original design that they were intending to commercialize first was invented by Dr. Otis Peterson at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) located in New Mexico, United States.[1] Recently, the firm and their reactor design has attracted news coverage.[2]

As of September 2009, Hyperion expected to sell 4,000 units of the "2008-design" version of its Hyperion Power Module, at an estimated US$25–30 million each, and expected to ship its first unit in June 2013.[3] Hyperion has moved on to a second-design in 2009 which they are currently attempting to license through the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In early 2009, the company had over 100 orders for the "2008-design". It plans to build manufacturing facilities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and somewhere in Asia.[4]


Revised 2009 design: uranium nitride fueled, lead-bismuth cooled reactor

Hyperion announced in November 2009 that, despite their continued intentions to pursue the self-modulated uranium hydride reactor, urgent customer needs for a rapidly licenseable and deployable reactor are causing them to choose another LANL design for initial commercialization. They are moving forward with a uranium nitride fueled, lead-bismuth cooled reactor. Using a liquid-metal-cooled fast reactor should speed the time to commercialization over the more revolutionary uranium hydride, self-modulating design that had previously been publicly discussed.[5]

Isometric concept drawing of a power plant of this type, with the reactor module itself within a concrete vault, an intermediate coolant loop emerging from the small modular reactor connected to a pre-heater, an evaporator, and a superheater, water tanks for the tertiary loop as well as water purification and cleanup facilities therefore, as well as a water connection to the reactor vault for residual heat removal (via vault flooding), a steam turbogenerator and relevant appurtenances, electrical switchgear, and a dry cooling tower.
USNRC concept illustration of a Hyperion Power Module plant.[6]

Fuel and Coolant Selection

According to Hyperion, the uranium nitride fuel incorporated in the design is generally similar in physical characteristics and neutronics to the standard ceramic uranium oxide fuel that is used at present in modern light water nuclear reactors. However, it has certain beneficial traits - higher thermal conductivity - and thus less retained heat energy - that make it preferable over oxide fuels when used at temperature regimes that are greater than the 250 to 300 °C (482 to 572 °F) temperatures found in light water reactors[7]. By operating at higher temperatures, steam plants can operate at a higher thermal efficiency. The presentation by Hyperion at the ANS 2009 conference mentions the use of the Doppler inherent negative temperature coefficient of reactivity in this reactor as a means of control.[8] Sesonske avers that nitride fuels have both received very little development (as of 1973) and seem to have a very favorable combination of physical properties - especially in fast reactors.[9] Whether this carries over to lead-bismuth cooled reactors is a question not answered in the reviewed literature, though the Russians have worked with this type of reactor before in naval service; in particular, the Alfa class submarine - well known in the West for its high speed operation - was driven by such a lead-bismuth reactor which is known to have worked very effectively.[7]

The Hyperion module has sufficient fuel for 3650 full power days at 70 MWth, is capable of load following, and is meant to be built in pairs; one module can be at power, while another can be under installation or uninstallation at the same time, ensuring reliable supply of electricity.[7]

Thermal Hydraulics, Energy Production and Extraction

Hyperion plans to use natural circulation of the lead-bismuth coolant through the reactor module as a means of primary cooling. Coolant temperatures within the primary loop should be approximately 500 °C (932 °F). Powered intermediate heat exchangers, also using lead-bismuth coolant, are located within the reactor and run an intermediate loop going to a third ex-reactor heat exchanger (the steam generator), where heat is transferred to the working fluid, heating it to approximately 480 °C (896 °F). Two schemes of power generation exist at this point: either using superheated steam or supercritical carbon dioxide to drive Rankine cycle or Brayton cycle turbines. In addition to the classical use of power generation, further uses for the heated working fluid can include desalinization, process heat, and district heating and cooling.[7]

The thermal hydraulics of the lead-bismuth reactor are dictated by the high heat capacity and unique properties of the lead-bismuth eutectic coolant. This coolant has several extremely beneficial properties for a reactor: it is opaque to gamma radiation, but transparent to neutron flux; it melts easily at a low temperature, but does not boil until an extremely high temperature is reached; it does not greatly expand or contract when exposed to heat or cold; it has a high heat capacity; it will naturally circulate through the reactor core without pumps being required - whether during normal operation or as a means of residual decay heat removal; and it will solidify once decay heat from a used reactor has dropped to a low level.[7]

Safety, Control, And Transport

Four mechanisms of control are used in the reactor. There are two types of control rods - rapid shutdown rods, designed to promptly absorb a large quantity of reactivity from the reactor to bring it below the shutdown margin, and fine-grained working control rods, also known as shims, which are used to compensate for the long-term decrease in reactivity (long-term decrease in Keff) that comes from the nuclear fuel being depleted and fission products being formed. The shims, in particular, have 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) of travel distance which they slowly travel over the life of the reactor. There is a secondary shutdown system consisting of neutron-absorbing boron carbide balls that can be launched into the core in the event the shutdown rods are not responsive and rapid shutdown is called for. Fourth, there is the prompt negative temperature coefficient of reactivity, which prevents the reactor from remaining critical if it should enter into an unsafe temperature range. The reactor is designed so that once shut down, it does not require external agencies aside from natural conduction and convection to surrounding natural media to remove residual heat, qualifying it as highly safe.[7]

The reactor weighs 20 tonnes (44,000 lb) fully fueled (including coolant), and it can be transported by truck or by rail to its destination. Radiation protection during transport is integral, making it nearly impossible for any transport accident to threaten the release of radiation. As the coolant is composed of lead (a strong absorber of gamma radiation), the reactor is very safe for humans to be in close proximity to while the reactor is transported; further, if the reactor is allowed sufficient time to eliminate decay heat prior to transport, the lead-bismuth coolant will be in solid phase, thus fixing the internals of the reactor in place, causing the reactor to behave as a single piece of metal if subjected to external shock.[7]

Licensing Strategy

Hyperion intends to pursue the licensing of the uranium nitride, lead-bismuth small reactor with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), though the firm's deployment schedule - the target date for deployment will be by the end of 2013 - as well as indications from senior personnel within Hyperion indicates that perhaps the reactor will bypass the normal NRC process for commercial reactors - as it takes many years - and will instead be initially deployed by the US Department of Energy or the US Department of Defense, not subject to NRC regulation, or that Hyperion will seek a 10CFR50.21 Class 104 Research and Development reactor license from the NRC.[7]

Possibilities for manufacture in nations other than the United States have also been mentioned as a way to overcome the USNRC's lesser agility in responding to the commercial introduction of unique and innovative features by this reactor design. In particular, Hyperion plans to manufacture reactors in the United Kingdom, which has demonstrated recent national leadership in the field of nuclear energy, while a yet to be announced nation in Asia is targeted for manufacture as well.[7]

Current Developments

As of November 2009, no uranium nitride fuel for the design has been tested or manufactured for the project, but Hyperion claims that fuel burns will begin before year-end 2009.[5]

According to a press release from Hyperion, the decision to go forth with the nitride lead bismuth fast reactor design is a choice taken to ensure that regulators can move very rapidly to license the design and place it into production, due to the demands of customers for the sort of deployable electrical energy that can be produced in the near term by such, while the long term goal of the company remains to develop the Peterson hydride reactor. Mention is also made that LANL and Hyperion are apparently collaborating on several additional small and medium designs from researchers at LANL.

Previous 2008 design: self-regulating, uranium hydride reactor

Dr. Otis G. Peterson, formerly of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has filed application #11/804,450 for patent protection in the United States for a unique modular nuclear reactor design that he developed while working for LANL.[10] According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Peterson has licensed the pending patent to Hyperion Power Generation, LLC.[11]

In November 2008, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) indicated that investigation of the design is not expected to begin until February 2009 and that they expect "that it will take significant time to ensure safety requirements."[12]

As of November 2009, the Hyperion design is listed as being under pre-review on the "Advanced Reactors" section of the website of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with Status/Other Info: A conceptual design. NRC has had limited interactions with Hyperion and is awaiting further design work before scheduling pre-application meetings.[11]

Hydrogen, self-modulated reactor design description

The earlier (2008) Hyperion design is notable for the use of uranium hydride (UH3) "low-enriched" to 10% uranium-235 -- the remainder is uranium-238 -- as the nuclear fuel,[3] rather than the usual metallic uranium or uranium dioxide that composes the fuel rods of contemporary light water reactors. In fact, within the application, the contemporary "rod" based design with fuel rods and control rods is completely omitted from the proposed reactor design in favor of a "tub" design with passive heat pipes conducting heat to the heat exchanger running through the "tub" of granulated uranium hydride.[10]

According to the aforementioned patent application, the reactor design in question begins producing power when hydrogen gas at a sufficient temperature and pressure is admitted to the core (made up of granulated uranium metal) and reacts with the uranium metal to form uranium hydride.[10] Uranium hydride is both a nuclear fuel and a neutron moderator; apparently it, like other neutron moderators, will slow neutrons sufficiently to allow for fission reactions to take place; the U-235 atoms within the hydride also serve as the nuclear fuel. Once the nuclear reaction has started, it will continue until it reaches a certain temperature, approximately 800 °C (1,500 °F), where, due to the chemical properties of uranium hydride, it chemically decomposes and turns into hydrogen gas and uranium metal. The loss of neutron moderation due to the chemical decomposition of the uranium hydride will consequently slow — and eventually halt — the reaction. When temperature returns to an acceptable level, the hydrogen will again combine with the uranium metal, forming uranium hydride, restoring moderation and the nuclear reaction will start again.[10]

This makes the reactor a self-regulating, dynamical system, as with a rise in temperature, nuclear reactivity will substantially decrease, and with a fall in temperature, nuclear reactivity will substantially increase. Thus, this reactor design is self-regulating, meltdown is impossible, and the design is inherently safe.[10] From a safety point of view, the design leverages the technology used in the TRIGA reactor, "the only reactor that the NRC has licensed for unattended operation, meaning it's so safe that you can literally walk away from it. It's walk-away safe."[3]

The only hazards are those of all nuclear materials, namely those of radiation, but this is significantly mitigated by the fact that the reactor design is intended to be buried underground and only dug up for refueling every five years, at which point, assuming proper safeguards are used, exposure to radioactivity is a comparatively trivial concern. Spent fuel is also a concern, but this is mitigated due to certain technologies and advantages that make the design in question's used fuel more suitable for nuclear recycling. In particular, the patent application for the design indicate that using a thorium fuel cycle instead of a uranium fuel cycle with this type of reactor will allow far greater recycling potential than presently is found in standard used fuel.[10]

Apparently, the proposed reactor design will be capable of supplying 25 megawatts of electric power, weigh 18–20 tons, measure approximately 1.5 meters in diameter, be mass-produced on an assembly line, and be capable of unattended, unrefueled operation for up to seven to ten years at a time.[11] Costs are projected to be competitive with other established sources of energy, like coal, conventional nuclear, and natural gas. Hyperion Power Generation has initiated discussions regarding reactor licensing with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission,[11] and intends to install their first reactor by 2013, according to Hyperion's website.

Current Competing Designs


  1. ^ "Compact Reactor Technology Deemed Outstanding by Federal Laboratory Consortium". Los Alamos National Laboratory. October 3, 2008. http://pearl1.lanl.gov/external/Research/peterson_FLC.html. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  2. ^ John Vidal; Nick Rosen (2008-11-09). "Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes; £13m shed-size reactors will be delivered by lorry". The Observer (London, UK). http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/09/miniature-nuclear-reactors-los-alamos. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  3. ^ a b c "Interview with John Deal, Hyperion Power Generation". techrockies.com. September 22, 2008. http://www.techrockies.com/story/0017490.html. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  4. ^ "Hyperion to build small reactor assembly facility in the UK". Nuclear Engineering International. 1 October 2009. http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?sectioncode=132&storyCode=2054283. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  5. ^ a b Hyperion launches U2N3-fuelled, Pb-Bi-cooled fast reactor, 20 November 2009, Nuclear Engineering International
  6. ^ Hyperion Power Module (HPM), Nuclear Regulatory Commission filing February 10, 2010, accessed 2010-03-10.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Adams, Rod; Rudin, Forrest; Trapp, TJ; (2010-01-21). "The Atomic Show #148: Hyperion Power Module Update (Audio Interview)" (in English). The Atomic Show. Adams Atomic Engines, Inc./The Podcast Network. http://atomic.thepodcastnetwork.com/2010/01/22/the-atomic-show-148-hyperion-power-module-update/. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  8. ^ Campagna, Mark S.; COO, CNO, Hyperion Power Generation (2009-11-18). "Presentation (PDF format)" (in English). American Nuclear Society Meeting 2009 (Denver, Colorado, USA: Hyperion Power Generation): pp. 6, 8. 
  9. ^ Sesonske, Alexander (1973-11). "7.161". in Technical Publications Department, ORNL, Oak Ridge, Tennessee (in English). Nuclear Power Plant Design Analysis (1st ed.). Technical Information Center, Office of Information Services, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. pp. 373. ISBN 0870790099. http://www.osti.gov/energycitations/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=4417437. Retrieved 2009-11-29. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Peterson, Otis G. (2008-03-20). "Patent Application 11/804450: Self-regulating nuclear power module". United States Patent Application Publication. United States Patent and Trademark Office, Federal Government of the United States, Washington, DC, USA. http://www.google.com/patents?id=_WGoAAAAEBAJ&zoom=4&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  11. ^ a b c d "NRC: Hyperion". Advanced Reactors (webpage). United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Federal Government of the United States, Beltsville, MD, USA. http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/advanced/hyperion.html. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  12. ^ PhysOrg news about Hyperion's uranium hydride reactor

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