Over the weekend, the UK’s Observer newspaper ran a story about ‘nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes’. The reactors, the story said, will be available in five years, cost $25 million each, and power 10,000 houses.
In an attempt to allay safety fears, they will also ‘be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.’
Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.
The Czech company TES, which is a small supplier for the nuclear power plants Dukovany and Temelin, has ordered six of the mini reactors, according to Hyperion, the designers. They also say one has been ordered by Romania. However, Romania’s National Committee for Nuclear Control knows nothing about it.
No prototype of the reactor exists and the design is not yet finalised or approved. Despite claims to the reactors’ safety, problems of installation, transport and refuelling still exist. Hyperion claims the reactors are theft-proof but who ever heard of anyone attempting to steal an operating nuclear reactor? It’s the fuel supply chain where the dangers lie. Are we to assume that the refuelling trucks will be accompanied by armed guards?
The reactors are going to be buried where leaks and problems may not be detected early enough. And the systems that activate and deactivate the reactors will have to be above ground and therefore open to sabotage. The reactors have to be dug up every five to ten years for refuelling creating further risks.
So, they’re based on untested science, still on the drawing board and open to sabotage, attack and failure. But apart from that, mini reactors sound like a really good idea.