The Vision Generate heat and electricity for small-town America using pint-size nuclear reactors that will run for 30 years with no refueling, maintenance or noxious diesel fumes
The Plan From Toshiba, a company best known in the U.S. for its consumer electronics, comes a proposal for the world’s smallest commercial nuclear power plant. At 10 megawatts, the 4S reactor (short for Super Safe, Small and Simple) is less than seven feet tall and is sealed in a concrete vault about 100 feet underground. Some have dubbed it a “nuclear battery” since it will run without refueling for its entire 30-year lifetime.
The key to the hands-off maintenance plan for the proposed reactor is its coolant system. Most nuclear reactors in the U.S. use pressurized water as their coolant, but the 4S relies on molten sodium. Because sodium is a metal, it can be cycled through the reactor using electromagnetic pumps with no moving parts to repair.
Potential Uh-Ohs Of the 400-plus full-size nuclear reactors operating worldwide, only two are sodium-cooled. One concern is that sodium might come in contact with water, which could cause an explosion. Another question is whether the reactor can be safely operated for 30 years without any inspections or repairs. If maintenance is required, the reactor will have to be dug up and sent back to the factory in Japan.
ETA Toshiba hopes to install the first 4S in Galena, Alaska (pop. 700), by 2012. Far from the main power grid, residents now pay about 45 cents per kilowatt for diesel power, but the 4S could cut that cost in half.
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