Why ‘nuclear batteries’ offer a new approach to carbon-free energy

Posted: June 26, 2021 by oldbrew in Energy, innovation, Nuclear power

Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

‘Plug and play’ nuclear power in a box, or container, is the basic idea.
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We may be on the brink of a new paradigm for nuclear power, a group of nuclear specialists suggested recently in The Bridge, the journal of the National Academy of Engineering. TechXplore reporting.

Much as large, expensive, and centralized computers gave way to the widely distributed PCs of today, a new generation of relatively tiny and inexpensive factory-built reactors, designed for autonomous plug-and-play operation similar to plugging in an oversized battery, is on the horizon, they say.

These proposed systems could provide heat for industrial processes or electricity for a military base or a neighborhood, run unattended for five to 10 years, and then be trucked back to the factory for refurbishment.

The authors—Jacopo Buongiorno, MIT’s TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering; Robert Frida, a founder of GenH; Steven Aumeier of the Idaho National Laboratory; and Kevin Chilton, retired commander of the U.S. Strategic Command—have dubbed these small power plants “nuclear batteries.”

Because of their simplicity of operation, they could play a significant role in decarbonizing the world’s electricity systems to avert catastrophic climate change, the researchers say. MIT News asked Buongiorno to describe his group’s proposal.

Q: The idea of smaller, modular nuclear reactors has been discussed for several years. What makes this proposal for nuclear batteries different?

A: The units we describe take that concept of factory fabrication and modularity to an extreme. Earlier proposals have looked at reactors in the range of 100 to 300 megawatts of electric output, which are a factor of 10 smaller than the traditional big beasts, the big nuclear reactors at the gigawatt scale.

These could be assembled from factory-built components, but they still require some assembly at the site and a lot of site preparation work. So, it’s an improvement over the traditional plants, but it’s not a huge improvement.

This nuclear battery concept is really a different thing because of the physical scale of these machines—about 10 megawatts. It’s so small that the whole power plant is actually built in a factory and fits within a standard container.

The idea is to fit the whole power plant, which comprises a microreactor and a turbine that converts the heat to electricity, into the container.

This provides several benefits from an economic point of view. You are completely decoupling your projects and your technology from the construction site, which has been the source of every possible schedule delay and cost overrun for nuclear projects over the past 20 years.

This way it becomes sort of energy on demand. If the customer wants either heat or electricity, they can get it within a couple of months, or even weeks, and then it’s plug and play.

This machine arrives on the site, and just a few days later, you start getting your energy. So, it’s a product, it’s not a project. That’s how I like to characterize it.

Continued here.

NAE: A Strategy to Unlock the Potential of Nuclear Energy for a New and Resilient Global Energy-Industrial Paradigm

  1. Phil Salmon says:

    Nuclear batteries 🔋 – welcome to the gorilla in the room that has been sitting there the whole time.

    I predict that we will see a full-blown fiasco resulting from chemical batteries and hydrogen, after which the obvious nuclear solution will be grudgingly accepted.

    It’s like what Winston Churchill said of the Americans in WW2 – “they will do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives”.

  2. JB says:

    “…decarbonizing the world’s electricity systems to avert catastrophic climate change, the researchers say.”

    Do say, now.

    A bit short on memory and valid climate info.

  3. Gamecock says:

    I’m glad our silhouetteo of a man made it through.

    ‘run unattended for five to 10 years’

    NFW. They will have to refuel several times in 10 years.

  4. ilma630 says:

    These make infinitely more sense than wind, solar, hydro and even hydrogen.

    When they build the sites, they should make space enough for a spare to be installed (literally plug & play) to replace one should it fail and need to be swapped out.

  5. oldbrew says:

    The idea seems to be that these ‘nuclear batteries’ are off-grid, or at least can be if sited close to what they’re powering.

  6. cognog2 says:

    It looks like these would fit into a submarine.

  7. ivan says:

    At last someone is thinking – calling them ‘batteries’ rather than ‘power plant’ should get them away from the general misconception that anything nuclear is bad and must be opposed regardless.

  8. oldmanK says:

    ???? At the 10MW level a turbo-gen efficiency would be under 30%. So one needs to reject 20MW of heat, low grade heat, that may not be needed for heating. I would like to see that solution first.

    Even if rejected to air, that would require large heat exchangers that require a lot of attention. An overheating nuke core in one’s back garden, ,or anywhere near, ,,,.

  9. AC Osborn says:

    Nuclear batteries have been around for decades, they have been using them on Satellites since the 1960s.

  10. Tenuc Hardon says:

    Rolls Royce are working to repackage their ultra reliable and safe nuclear submarine power plant for domestic use. Their SMR units each produce 440MWe, with a lifespan of 60 years. The first reactor could be rolling off the robotic assisted production line and in use in just 9 years. It sure beats having to rely on unreliable windmills and PV panels for or electricity.

  11. […] Why ‘nuclear batteries’ offer a new approach to carbon-free energy — Tallbloke’s Talksho… […]

  12. AC Osborn says:

    For those not aware it is sad news that Robert Felix of IcAgeNow fame passed away on June the 10th.
    Iceagenow has a post up for posters to share their remembrances of Robert and his work.

  13. Gamecock says:

    “Rolls Royce are working to repackage their ultra reliable and safe nuclear submarine power plant for domestic use.”

    Please, that is ABSURD. Military reactors can be small because they are built without refueling facilities. They can run a long time because they use highly enriched uranium. Civilian power stations WILL NOT GET HIGHLY ENRICHED URANIUM.

    What the military does has no relevance to civilian power generation.

  14. stewgreen says:

    Any unsecured nuclear material is a potential *dirty bomb*
    that could be used by terrorists to contaminate a region.

  15. roger says:

    then you should write to the RR board and tell them that the millions that they have set aside for research and development is absurd. See their website.

  16. stpaulchuck says:

    there are any number of SMR (small nuclear reactor) designs. I understand the Japanese have a couple in test production and testing. This it NOT new, but maybe they are close to a production version and I’d like to see it installed.

    I wish they’d be honest about it though. This has ZERO to do with the planet’s climate, but it DOES have everything to do with getting rid of the windmill and solar panel subsidy farms that are screwing up power grids all over. For reference see Australia and California.

  17. Bloke down the pub says:

    ‘These figures would make the NB competitive against retail electricity prices for industry and natural gas heat (with either a carbon tax or carbon capture and sequestration) almost everywhere in the world.’
    So, without a carbon tax or sequestration, gas is still the one to beat. Economics will win in the end.

  18. hdhuffman says:

    They stil just boil water, that runs a turbine … however small. (The engineering of them must be just a bit hellacious — er, “involved” — too. Not like a lawn mower engine, say, you can take apart and fix yourself (warning! warning!)) Failure to think outside the box, on a monumental scale (monumental failure, that is).

    I mentioned, off-handedly, what I think is a more likely (though still far from likely) future reality, that involves really new technology, not just more heat engines, not too long ago (2012):

    nuclear fission-fusion transistor

    That link may be fruitless. My comment was likely scrubbed shortly after I made it. We’re still in the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, before the next Great Leap for man. The fission-fusion transistor is pie in the sky, of course…for now.

  19. mike thefordprefect says:

    turbines? where’s the condenser. where’s the water supply. 10MW means 5MW of energy lost as heat. that’s a lot of heat to get rid of in a container.
    most mofern reactors require inspection and faults rectified. Turbines do not run forever

  20. Mike Wattam says:

    If we try to forecast how we will harness energy in future, there are many different energy models which demonstrate that nations and negative pressure groups within them will ensure there will be no common future infrastructure. Therefore achieving the many benefits of such a widely distributed common energy system is un-forseeable.

    Negative drivers such as a world-wide lack of funding, blind prejudice, ulterior motives, selfishness of individuals and ultimately the ignorance/idiocy of politicians who are led by personal motives will lead to a patchwork quilt of largely incompatible energy sources with little or no wide range distribution, leading to unintended local power problems. Hang on, aren’t we virtually there now?

    But this practical NB modular nuclear solution is particularly vulnerable to the negative campaigners who will persuade a gullible public that we will all be wiped out by a nuclear power pack in our back garden.

  21. Gamecock says:

    “But this practical NB modular nuclear solution”

    [citation needed]

    Begging the question fallacy.