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United States Technology

Port-A-Nuke 791

Roland Piquepaille writes "Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are designing a self-contained, tamper-resistant nuclear reactor that can be transported and installed anywhere in the world. In 'US plans portable nuclear power plants,' New Scientist writes that the sealed reactors would last 30 years and deliver between 10 and 100 megawatts. The largest version would be about 15 meters high and 3 meters wide, with a weight of about 500 tons, allowing for transportation by ships or very large trucks. The DOE thinks that this kind of nuclear reactor -- named SSTAR for 'small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor' -- would help to deliver nuclear energy to developing countries while significantly reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation associated with the use of nuclear power. What do you think of this idea? Is it a good one or a crazy one? Leaving a nuclear reactor in a developing country which can potentially become unstable during the 30 years of service of the reactor doesn't seem to be terribly safe. Read more before deciding. Anyway, there will be no prototypes before 2015."
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  • by ( 156602 ) * on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:31PM (#10150656) Homepage Journal
    Not a bad idea. And as for becoming unstable, I'm sure it's simple enough to bury the reactor such that it becomes it's own disposal site.

    I'll take the 10 megawatts model for my house. I'm sure it's no bigger than an asteroid the size of a VW.
    • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:35PM (#10150739) Homepage Journal
      I'll take the 10 megawatts model for my house.

      Considering my last power bill, these bigger and faster CPUs really need some juice and if you go multicore and such, you may not be exaggerating. All this bitching about nuclear power being safe, pollution from Coal and Gas plants, how ineffective Solar or Wind are -- doesn't anyone realize we're using more electrical power than ever before? Even when we have vaccum tube TV's?

      Looking at the octopi at work and around home it seems my next house should have powerstrips along the walls, not just outlets.

      • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:41PM (#10150848) Homepage Journal
        Looking at the octopi at work and around home it seems my next house should have powerstrips along the walls, not just outlets.

        Power Strip Wainscotting! I love it! I think I'm going to redo my home office with it!
        • by Jhan ( 542783 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @03:03PM (#10151862) Homepage
          Power Strip Wainscotting! I love it! I think I'm going to redo my home office with it!

          Dog knows I could use it. I love the idea, and I love the word. Wainscotting ... Wainscotting ... Wainscotting ... sounds like a little Dorset village, doesn't it? Wainscotting.

          (Cut to the village of Wains Cotting. A woman rushes out of a house.) Woman: We've been mentioned on the internet!

          • Of course- if Doug picks this up, he'll match it with woven sheets of aluminum on the top and padded black rubber on the bottom, for that modern look...

            People who have watched Trading Spaces will agree, we hate Doug.

            People in Portland, OR who had Doug redesign their living room into a home theater, complete with suspended TV stand that fell off the ceiling a week later and destroyed their TV set REALLY hate Doug.
      • by bigberk ( 547360 ) <> on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:49PM (#10150959)
        doesn't anyone realize we're using more electrical power than ever before?
        Maybe worth pointing out that we don't need to be using more electrical power than ever before. I believe our current state reflects an inability of american society to realize that conservation is worthwhile and necessary.

        100+ watt CRT versus 30 watt LCD monitor; 100 watt incandescent light bulbs versus 25 watt compact fluorescent []. These technologies are readily available, are in many states are now economical alternatives. So use them!

        The tech industry is also obsessed with high performance chips that have power consumption through the roof (most of it waste, of course). Where's the direction toward more energy efficient processing alternatives? Most applications do not need 1 GHz processors.
        • by the chao goes mu ( 700713 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:59PM (#10151093)
          While you focus on energy consumption, you ignore the energy required to manufacture and replace existing items. How much energy used to manufacture these flourescent bulbs, the fixtures to use them and to replace existing fixtures? How much additional waste is generated? How much energy to retool factories to produce more of one and less of the other?

          It is the main short coming of "it's so simple" environmental/conservation arguments that they often ignore the costs which are less obvious.

        • Most applications do not need 1 GHz processors.

          Wait, you're telling me I don't need the 3.2Ghz P4 with "Hyper-Threading" to power my porno slideshow screensaver?!?
        • I believe our current state reflects an inability of american society to realize that conservation is worthwhile and necessary.

          The thing is that conservation is not worthwhile to the average American, from an economic perspective. Conservation and power efficiency in home devices and appliances often require a larger up-front cost, and only pay out their savings over an extended period of time. If energy became more expensive, things would change, but right now, it's worth it for average Joe to use his pow

        • by King_TJ ( 85913 )
          As a matter of fact, I already *do* make liberal use of comapct flourescent replacements for regular lightbulbs - but they're not always viable. The biggest problem I have with them is they don't seem to be designed to stand up to the levels of heat they put out. They're not recommended for use in enclosed fixtures. (I tried it once anyway, in a couple ceiling lights in my kitchen. After only a few weeks, one of the flourescent bulbs started turning itself on and off every 30 seconds or so. I took it o
      • Heh, thanks a lot for your post. Now the entire first page, using the default threaded mode, is talking about power supplies and fluroescent lights ;)
    • Do you want this thing out and about?
      • Do you want this thing out and about?

        Please stop with the FUD.

        We have satellites, we can also -track- anything. Put a transmitter inside them with a tamper switch. Transmitter goes offline, send in a special forces response team to find out what's happening. Besides, it's in the best interests of every government we give these to that they keep them safe. I'd imagine if they let someone screw with just one we wouldn't give them anymore.

        And YES, I do want these things out and about. It's time to qui
        • "Just one" is all it takes. It's been proven time and time again that NOTHING is tamper proof. And once hundreds of these things get shipped out... well, I can think of better things our forces can be doing than policing other nation's power plants.

          Like, finding Osama perhaps.
    • by dirvish ( 574948 ) <> on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:39PM (#10150821) Homepage Journal
      Sounds like a great idea. Gives the DOE (or someone else) 30 years to figure out what to do with the things once they become unstable. Considering how dependant the world is on energy, and how fast we are draining our resources, and the relatively small number of accidents to date, I don't see what the huge controversy over nuclear energy is.
      • I think the problem is that people are more averse to lots os small problems than a single large disaster. I'd rather have 200 cuts than have my entire hand severed. Nuclear tends to have fewer minor problems, but more large-scale problems.

        However, we are not draining our energy as fast as we once thought. First of all, many dry oil well have been refilling (in fact, it's causing some to reconsider what the process is for oil production in the earth actually is). Second of all, the calculation for "yea
    • Duplicate story.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by antarctican ( 301636 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:45PM (#10150907) Homepage
      Too bad this story was reported on earlier [].... though the placement of the reactor has changed slightly....
      • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:55PM (#10151036) Homepage Journal
        I don't believe that's the same reactor. Toshiba didn't say that they'd actually built a critical reactor. Instead they called theirs a "nuclear battery" that produced a constant 900C of heat. It's quite possible that Toshiba's model was simply radioisotope powered (i.e. RTG), or maybe it was a simple fission pile. Either one could produce a lot of heat and electricity WITHOUT actually running in a critical state. (as with normal reactors).

        I'm sure someone will come along and provide more details and insult me in a few moments.
        • Its a slow fission system that uses a neutron reflecting shield that gradually (over 30 years) descends via gravity over the material. The neutrons bounce back into the fissile material thus creating fission. The shield descends at the rate it takes to consume the fuel (a long time)

          The benefit of this is if for some reason the shield stops moving, the worse that would happen is fission would cease entirely at some point, rather than run away.

          Or so my understanding goes.
          • by JudgeFurious ( 455868 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @03:00PM (#10151837)
            The alarming drop in standards I've seen on Slashdot lately really bothers me. Insults are critical to the Slashdot environment.

            At this rate we're going to see a complete lack of insults within...oh.. ...Oh, nevermind. We should be good on insults until 2231 give or take a few years.

            But still it's no excuse to go slacking man. Now get back on here, call him an asshat and straighten up your postings pronto.
    • by the chao goes mu ( 700713 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:55PM (#10151035)
      Wouldn't "no bigger than an asteroid the size of a VW" be more simply stated as "no bigger than a VW"?

      Or is this some sort of demonostration of the fact that size is transitive? A=B, B=C Thus A=C?

      You could have just as easily said "no bigger than a block of cheese the size of a pile of matchsticks the size of an asteroid the size of a VW".

  • One Dirty Bomb (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:31PM (#10150662) Homepage Journal
    Just add C4, Dynamite or Fuel and Fertilizer if you're really hard up.

    Leaving a nuclear reactor in a developing country

    I trust this means stable and reasonably secure developing country. Some of us have learned some things in the last few years. Some of us have learned a lot in the last 72 hours. :-(

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is so idiotic that we are still in the mindset of NEEDING more energy! we need to be focusing on distributed energy creation using renewable especially in the developing countries. They have an opportunity that our country does not have because of our heavy need on foreign oil.. Maybe they can be smarter than us on energy.
    • by AHumbleOpinion ( 546848 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:39PM (#10150811) Homepage
      Just add C4, Dynamite or Fuel and Fertilizer if you're really hard up.

      Hard up for what, seeing paint scorched? The gov't is already pretty good at building reactors and transportation vessels that stand up to such attacks. The real threats are regrettably from the simple and common anti-armor weapons.
      • I'll second that. There were big chunks of the truck from the Murrah building still intact -- I'm sure they'll build a containment vessel stronger than a frame rail or a differential when exposed to a bomb.

        Q. Were you also informed that a portion of the <I>frame rail was
        found on top of a building approximately a block and a half to
        two blocks away</I> from the Murrah Building?
        A. Yes. I was.
        Q. And what did that tell you about the size of the device or
        the power of the device?
        A. Again, it was a big

      • Hard up for what, seeing paint scorched?

        Wrong. The concern isn't that attackers will toss a bomb at the reactor, but that they will seize the reactor, dismantle it, and use the radioactive fuel (which is otherwise difficult to obtain) as the payload for a dirty bomb.

        Current nuclear reactors are unlikely to be seized by a handful of armed men, because they are either large complexes in civilized nations, or onboard military ships. The project will encourage the placement of reactors in poorer, less cont
        • Which is why the reactor plans call for a GPS unit that phones home if tampered with. RTFA.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:44PM (#10150885)
      Yeah, just make sure you're not doing it in Chico, CA. There's a $500 fine for detonating a nuclear device within the city limits.
      • Yeah, just make sure you're not doing it in Chico, CA. There's a $500 fine for detonating a nuclear device within the city limits.

        It's obvious this city ordinance is very effective, there haven't been any nuclear detonations there. They should put this law on the books in all cities, then everybody will be safe....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:32PM (#10150674)
    Hacking a Port-A-Nuke

    Powering Laptop With a Port-A-Nuke

    Building Your Own Port-A-Nuke

    Now a Porn-A-Nuke?
  • PORN!!!! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    PORN = PORtable Nuke reactor. Lest see if I can make it past the slashcode with that heading. Ok, so I did...

    I wonder if they require an armada of security on this thing (thing could mean slashcode or the Reactor :)
  • Is it just me, or does this make you think of Nuclear Reactor DRM?
    • The best part is you just make it blow if they start to mess with it.

      Saves us the bother of having to clean up after these countries that buy dual-use equipment from us for "development" then turn on us.

  • wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:34PM (#10150718)
    What are the chances that I'll be able to retrofit a 2005 Hummer with one of those babies?
  • Developing countries, national crisis areas, there is practically no limit for something like this. I don't see it being easily abused either. Power is civilization and civilization is generally a good thing. :p
  • What could possibly go wrong? /ignoring the fact that it is easier to convince greenpeace to clearcut an old growth forest than it is to get regulatory approval.
  • Portable nuke? Cool! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:35PM (#10150732) Homepage Journal
    A portable nuclear reactor? Cool! Just sling it over your back [] and go!

    Sarcasm aside, "portable" may be stretching it for something that weight 500 metric tons. "Self-contained" would be a better term. Which would be an impressive feat if they can pull it off. Most of our existing reactors require quite a bit of supervision to ensure that they operate within expected tolerances. The safety systems should kick in if anything goes wrong, but the power going out is enough of a problem in of itself. Of course, most of our reactors are pretty old tech, so a self-contained reactor may be possible now. I think it would be kind of cool if every suburb could have one of these things.

    Not sure about the whole third-world idea, though. All I can say is, it's better than letting them build their own reactors. At least with these, we'll 100% KNOW if plutonium is missing.
  • Sounds familiar... (Score:5, Informative)

    by flabbergast ( 620919 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:35PM (#10150735)
    I knew this sounded familiar. Its even at New Scientist.

    Mini nuclear reactor could power apartment blocks []

    With that said, I don't know how similar these two technologies are. But, smaller reactors seem to be an active area of research.
  • If it's sealed, it's nice.

    But if it gets smashed, there's a hell of a mess to clean up.
  • Don't you hate it when that happens? You spend all this time researching the best nuclear power plant for your needs, and finally you get one. Then a couple months later they come out with one that's twice as powerful, half the size, and half the price. And it includes this fancy "SSTAR" feature, which of course yours doesn't have.
  • by Cryofan ( 194126 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:37PM (#10150762) Journal
    I can tell you that US Navy subs have had few catastophic disasters, and perhaps none at all for a long time.

    So I think that is a good proof of concept for portable nuke power plants.

    With the right type of manufacturing technology, one can make the fissionable material very hard to get at.

    I fully support much more use of nuclear power everywhere in the world.

    • I can tell you that US Navy subs have had few catastophic disasters, and perhaps none at all for a long time.

      That's pretty funny. You know enough to know that you probably don't know everything you think you know, but don't want us to know that.

      "I can tell you that...."

      See! He's on the inside. He's a former nuclear operator with the Navy (so am I, btw). I can tell you that they don't tell us everything. There was a funny myth circulating at the Naval Nuclear Power School in Orlando when I went thriou
    • I can tell you that US Navy subs have had few catastophic disasters, and perhaps none at all for a long time.

      USS Thresher and USS Scorpion were lost at sea. USS Guitarro sank alongside a pier during construction for reasons that can only be described as Really Dumb, but was refloated and repaired.

      No US subs have been lost since the 1970s, though.

  • But seriously two issues have to be addressed:

    (1) is it going to be safe similar to the claims of ? []

    (2). If at any point (including) end of life, some unsavory party can break into the reactor and steal the plutonium. Even if there are alarms, the thief would be long gone before the autorities could arrive (if it is not the government themselfs doing this).

  • It's a good idea if these are mature reactor designs that won't suffer from Chlorine-related chamber corrosion and cannot go sufficiently out of control to achieve melt down.

    We need to resume the serious development and deployment of fossil-fuel alternatives. I just wish somebody would create a commercial Energy Amplifier reactor [] so we could use Thorium as an energy source and move away from enriched uranium, which is energy and environmentally costly to mine, refine, and dispose of.
  • Mars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:37PM (#10150771) Journal
    10 to 30 years is perfect for building a small base.
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:38PM (#10150791) Homepage
    Power out? Forget that sissy battery powered UPS, just pull out my nuclear porta power backup generator. The ultimate sysad gadget.

    Wonder if it has a sticker on the side that says: WARNING DO NOT DISPOSE IN TRASH.

  • by ahfoo ( 223186 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:39PM (#10150820) Journal
    What is being called safe is the cooling systems and other issues involved with a properly functioning system. What none of these are addressing is that a proplerly functioning nuclear fission plant produces wastes that need to be disposed of and those disposal costs are not being calculated in these reportedly cheap price tags.
    This is a very serious accounting issue and a firm that tries to play this kind of accounting game deserves to be busted for fraud.
  • by dcavanaugh ( 248349 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:40PM (#10150836) Homepage
    I'll bet the 10 megawatt model could be hooked up to an electric motor and transmission. No more gas station. Probably fast as hell too!
    • Um, no. (Score:3, Informative)

      by tgd ( 2822 )
      10 megawatts is 13,410.2209 horsepower. 1 million pounds. 0.0134 hp per lbs.

      The 250hp engine in my truck weighs about 450lbs. Thats 186,425 watts, or .55 hp per lbs.

      I'm not sure why the post was moderated as Interesting, since I assume it was a joke, but a lot of people don't realize a modern car engine puts out a hundred or more kilowatts peak.
      • Re:Um, no. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by selderrr ( 523988 )
        At 500 (or 200 or whatever >100) ton, the trouble is no longer in the engine, but in the brakes.

        I want to see you stop a 200ton vehicle driving 70mph.

        Whoah boy, watch out with that inertia, will ya ?
  • Great solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jrexilius ( 520067 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:42PM (#10150864) Homepage
    This is a great solution. Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq would have benefited greatly from this. These would help us get their critical infrastructure back up and running quickly and be a huge humanitarian benefit.

    Add to this a good wireless communications hub that would provide voice and data and you can quickly restores some semblence of normal life to a post-war environment.

    Now if they can get a water solution such as desalination or filtering then we would in great shape.
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:44PM (#10150880) Journal
    Personally, I still think the helium-cooled pebble bed reactors would be better for long-term operation.

    I can't believe that anything having to do with steam will survive 30 years without maintenance. Corrosion happens when you have water. High-pressure helium (or other unreactive noble gas) is a safer cooling solution.

    Also this whole breeding plutonium thing is real proliferation risk. The article says the reactor is "tamper resistant," but I don't see why someone couldn't bore through the side of the thing and take out the fuel rods. I think a non-breeding solution would be safer.

    The biggest issue with the "pebble bed" concept is the physical removal and addition of the pebbles, which is requires too many moving parts to be sealed.

    Certainly you could work out some sealed solution to a long-term pebble bed only having a part of the core fissioning at any point, using some sort of neutron absorbing rods or liquid.
    • Steam? Well... (Score:4, Informative)

      by irokitt ( 663593 ) <archimandrites-iaur@yaho o . c om> on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:00PM (#10151118)
      Be pretty hard to generate electricity without steam. Whether the reactor is a pebble-bed helium-moderated design or a "traditional" pressurized water-moderated design, the only purpose of a nuclear reactor is to generate heat, heating water to produce steam, which then turns a turbine to generate electricity. Either design you mention requires steam.

      Perhaps your confused about how the primary loop-the water that comes into contact with the fuel elements-works. That water is under pressure, and does not turn into steam. There is a secondary loop, which passes through a heat exchanger with the primary loop, and it is this secondary loop that is converted to steam to turn the turbine. The secondary loop is not radioactive.

      Pebble-bed reactors are promising because they have a potential to solve a lot of the problems that a PWR reactor has. But both reactors require steam.
      • Re:Steam? Well... (Score:5, Informative)

        by RsG ( 809189 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:13PM (#10151254)
        Actually, in one pebble bed reactor design, a non-reactive gas is used in the heat exchangers only, steam is limited to the turbines themselves (easy to maintain that way - there is little or no corrosion among the radioactive parts). It is also possible to use recycled helium in the turbines, although IIRC it is less effecient. The advantage to a helium-only model is that He4 cannot be rendered radioactive via neutron bombardment, whereas water can (therefor there should be no liquid or gaseous waste products in a He4 design).
      • Re:Steam? Well... (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheSync ( 5291 )
        pretty hard to generate electricity without steam

        Nope, high pressure gas turbines work fine []:

        JAERI is developing the Gas Turbine High Temperature Reactor (GTHTR) of up to 600 MW thermal per module. It uses improved HTTR fuel elements with 14% enriched uranium achieving high burn-up (112 GWd/t). Helium at 850C drives a horizontal turbine at 47% efficiency to produce up to 300 MWe. The core consists of 90 hexagonal fuel columns 8 metres high arranged in a ring, with reflectors. Each column consists of eigh
      • Re:Steam? Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DJGreg ( 28663 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:29PM (#10151479)

        Reading the article [] linked to from /. story about pebble bed reactors would show you that the turbines are driven by helium in the primary loop. There is no secondary loop. Water can be used as precooling before the helium is recompressed, but water or steam is not required.

  • Some issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by crucini ( 98210 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:50PM (#10150971)
    I wonder how many active systems are in this module, such as cooling, moderation, turbine, etc. What happens when a part breaks? Maybe it's built very redundantly so breakage only decreases the capacity.

    Does the unit make electricity or just steam? Does it contain any computers? What are the odds of needing a software upgrade sometime in the next 30 years? If there's a path for software updates, could someone write a malicious control software that causes a meltdown or something?

    If the US is smart, they'll incorporate some kind of cryptographic leash into this thing. It could require monthly "operating licenses" from the US to continue functioning.

    I didn't understand how the unit protects against extraction of plutonium. The article mentions a "thicket of alarms", but what happens when the alarms go off? You have to assume the local government wants to extract the plutonium. Maybe a shaped charge blows the reactor core to smithereens if the housing is penetrated. That would frustrate (or rather kill) would-be bomb makers, but create an environmental disaster around the reactor.
  • by immel ( 699491 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:54PM (#10151026)
    Notice they said "tamper-resistant" not "tamper-proof".This is just like in armor manufacturing, where there is no such thing as a "bulletproof" vest or a "bulletproof" door; there are bullet resistant things, but nothing can be entirely "proofed" from bullets or tampering.

    If a seemingly "unupgradable" and unassuming iMac can be overclocked, then the cask can be broken.
    If a supposedly "rock-solid" DRM can be defeated by depressing the shift key, then the alarms can be neutralized.
    If the entire east coast of North America's power can be shut off by a single local power outage, then the coolant can be blocked.
  • by macz ( 797860 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:55PM (#10151040)
    In the United States, no nuclear plants have been ordered since 1978 and more than 100 reactors have been canceled, including all ordered after 1973.

    Yet the plants we do have, 103 of them in 31 states, produce 20% of our electricity requirements.

    At Chernobyl, in the worst possible nuclear accident, in the worst possible place, with the worst possible safegauards, staffing, and reaction to the crisis:

    31 people died (most of them heroically) on site at the time of the accident

    after all this time, only 10 deaths from thyroid cancer can be attributed to this accident.

    We should be producing these port-a-nukes and putting them 2500 feet underground with wires sticking out every 500sq miles in this country!

    Or we could wait till gas hits 5 dollars per gallon like in Europe.

    I bet if we had over 100% electrical capacity covered by non-oil, non-coal fired power plants, all of our lives would be better.

    And our Middle East foreign policy would be greatly improved if they didn't have anything we wanted. Things aren't going well at the negotiating table? Screw house of Saud and walk away.

    In that context, what Middle Eastern country would want to be a "state sponsor of terroism."

    We shouldn't be giving this stuff away to countries until all of our needs are met here. At best, they will only hate us slightly less for patronizing them.

    Are we somehow obligated to prop up their governmental "bad ideas" while we fail to deal with our own? Why, cause we have money? Tell Bill Gates that he is required to buy lemonade from my kid because, relative to him, my family is "disadvantged." AND he should do it till he is poor and I am not.

    Mod me troll, I am still right.

  • I hope (Score:3, Interesting)

    by code shady ( 637051 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @01:56PM (#10151052) Homepage
    That they will not be using a standard rod and hot water setup for this thing. This seems like the ideal position in which to use a pebble bed reactor, perhaps like the modular ones china is developing, as discussed in the latest wired.

    I think the pebble bed model wpould be safer, and lend itself less to the recycling of spent fuel rods into weapons grade isotopes, since the actual radioactive material is sealed inside a ball of some rediculosly hard metal i cant think of off the top of my head.
  • Word is... (Score:3, Funny)

    by StevenHenderson ( 806391 ) <stevehenderson@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:03PM (#10151141)
    that you'll need one of these to power Nvidia's next video card. :)
  • by Mr. Cancelled ( 572486 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:08PM (#10151202)
    I remember reading an article discussing how Russia had made all these stand-alone mini-reactors and spread them throughout the wilderness of Russia.

    If I recall right, the intention was to provide light (from a shoreline) for ships or to provide heat to stranded sailors in the wilderness, or something similar.

    Unfortunately, the article I read this in was an article looking at how terrorists were/are able to readily find radioactive material throughout the world, but particularly in Russia.

    These things were spread around during the cold war, and then forgot about after the fall of communism. Russia is now playing a "catch-up" game of having to locate and retrieve all these little powerplants, and at the time of this article, they were unable to locate several of them, and of the ones they'd found, several were missing the "vital pieces".

    Similarly, of the ones that they had found, some had been tampered with, some had simply been broken open, probably by nature (with the contents located generally near the remains), and some were a little scarier: Some had been found by unsuspecting people in the area (local residents, hunters, etc), and these people of course became very ill, and in many cases passed away as a result of finding a cracked open, and mysterious case.

    One that sticks with me was a guy talking about how he had found this unusual rod laying on the ground, with all the snow around it melted. He took it home to his family as an oddity...

    Long story short, I think nuclear power is safe, when handled correctly, and safety is the #1 priority. I have problems believing that portable nuclear devices are held to the same high standards for safety. You simply can't guarantee that a device that's left alone, will always be left alone.
  • I'm melting!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ( 213219 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:15PM (#10151278) Journal
    Perhaps I'm showing my unorthidox leftist leanings here but I really don't think of this as a political issue. I think of it as an environmental issue.

    The US has not properly disposed of one ounce of high level nuclear reactor waste ever. We are storing it until a safe disposal facility is built. There are a lot of politics surrounding that with Nevada being the loser. Yucca mountain is really far from complete and may never be finished if the opponents win when they have their day in court.

    If the US can not properly dispose of the waste, how can we expect a developing nation to do so?

    The US has had Three Mile Island and Russia has had Chernobyl. Both of these countries have significant resources to bring to bear against the problem but have suffered the consiquences of accidents. How could Hati, Trinidad, or some other less sophisticated, resource poor nation deal? The answer is pretty obvious. If something goes wrong, they couldn't. And we probably couldn't get there in time.

    Chernobyl was designed to be "accident proof" if anything went wrong, the pile would quench itself.

    Three Mile Island was designed with multiple redundant safety systems and was manned by skilled engineers around the clock.

    Can we really believe that these machines are so well engineered that they can withstand thirty years of use without an accident?
  • by mustangdavis ( 583344 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:18PM (#10151328) Homepage Journal

    Looks like the government has been watching Stargate SG-1!!!

    (except we don't have naquada yet, so we're forced to use nuclear until we figure out how to use the stargate)


  • nuke kiddies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:30PM (#10151492) Homepage Journal
    Putting these nukes into countries without the technical or industrial infrastructure to support them will be a disaster. Look at how software quality has nosedived since anyone can fool a manager or customer into thinking they're a "programmer" by copy/pasting some HTML or scripts. Not only will these installations be unsafe grafted into an incompatible infrastructure, their host countries will become more dependent on foreign corporations that supply them. That's a recipe for keeping these countries in the "developing" (poor) category, never arriving in "developed" stability.
  • by frAme57 ( 145879 ) <> on Friday September 03, 2004 @02:59PM (#10151822) Homepage
    I cannot believe that, after over fifty years of tinkering with this crap; after experiences like TMI [] and WPPSS [] they are just now thinking about autonomous, portable reactors.

    When I learned about the reactors aboard submarines, how they're built and how they're run my next thought was that we should make civilian power plants the same way. I'm not exactly a cheerleader for the Navy but, from what I've seen, I do think that they are a good example of how to run a nuclear power program.

    Small, standardized, modular, portable, self-contained plants that could be added easily to a power grid, refueled at one central location and disposed of in its own container seem to be the most obvious sway to proceed with nuclear energy. Yes, the front end cost may be higher but in the long run, its a better way to go.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp