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Toshiba's "Nuclear Battery" Slated For Alaska Town

Is this the future of energy? Alaska Village Moves from Diesel to 'Micro-Nuke'

The small town of Galena, Alaska, is tired to pay 28 cents/kwh for its electricity, three times the national average. Today, Galena "is powered by generators burning diesel that is barged in during the Yukon River's ice-free months," according to Reuters. But Toshiba, which designs a small nuclear reactor named 4S (for "Super Safe, Small, & Simple"), is offering a free reactor to the 700-person village, reports the New York Times (no reg. needed). Galena will only pay for operating costs, driving down the price of electricity to less than 10 cents/kwh. The 4S is a sodium-cooled fast spectrum reactor -- a low-pressure, self-cooling reactor. It will generate power for 30 years before refueling and should be installed before 2010 providing an approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Read more...

First, where is Galena? Galena is a 700-person Athabascan Indian village on the Yukon River, located 275 miles west of Fairbanks and 550 miles northwest of Anchorage. (Credit: Shaw Pittman LLC).

Here is the status of the deal as told by Reuters.
Galena officials met with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. If the commission approves the plan, the reactor would be the first new one permitted in the United States since the early 1980s, according to an Alaska Public Radio Network report on Thursday.
Energy to power electricity is important to Galena. Winter temperatures can dip below minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 51 Celsius). Daylight is scarce because of the short days during the winter.
Galena is powered by generators burning diesel that is barged in during the Yukon River's ice-free months. That is costly and carries its own environmental risks because diesel can spill.

Toshiba, which designs a new 10-megawatt nuclear reactor, offered to install one of these in the hope that other isolated towns will follow, explains the New York Times.

Toshiba offered Galena a free reactor if the town would pay the operating costs, estimated at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, about the national average for power. In December, the City Council voted unanimously to take it.

Galena looked at other sources of energy, such as coal, which pollutes, and solar power, but the sun is not very present at this kind of latitude. So it decided to take the nuclear path.

Here are some details about the 4S reactor.
Toshiba calls its design the 4S reactor, for "super-safe, small and simple." It would be installed underground, and in case of cooling system failure, heat would be dissipated through the earth. There are no complicated control rods to move through the core to control the flow of neutrons that sustain the chain reaction; instead, the reactor uses reflector panels around the edge of the core. If the panels are removed, the density of neutrons becomes too low to sustain the chain reaction.

Is this really a Super-Safe nuclear reactor?
The design is described as inherently safe, but it does have one riskier feature: It uses liquid sodium, not water, to draw heat away from the core, so the heat can be used to make steam and then electricity.
Designers chose sodium so they could run the reactor about 200 degrees hotter than most power reactors, but still keep the coolant depressurized. (Water at that temperature would make steam at thousands of pounds of pressure a square inch.) The problem is that if sodium leaks, it burns.

Anyway, if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves it -- which could cost millions of dollars to Toshiba -- the 4S reactor could be installed by 2010. It will use uranium enriched to 20 percent and generate power for 30 years before needing to be disposed of and replaced.

If you're really interested by this 4S reactor to be installed in Galena, you should read "Public Information and Outreach in Galena, Alaska," a document prepared by the Washington, D.C., firm Shaw Pittman LLC (PDF format, 20 pages, 360 KB). The above images come from this document.
Follow the link to read his links. One thing I didn't get from that story is how much the 4S 10MW micro-nuke plant would have cost to buy outright, because I wondered if that would make the total cost uneconomical compared to fossil fuels. I found this interesting piece which had more detail.
The 4S reactor unit is referred to as a battery because it does not have moving parts, and once installed, its fuel will not need to be replaced as in conventional nuclear reactors.

The reactor unit is 50 feet to 60 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet in diameter. It will be built outside of Alaska, installed in the Yukon River community, encased in several tons of concrete and not be opened during its operating life, which is now estimated at 30 years.
How sweet is this? The thing basically has the dimensions of a water tower.

Licensing will be an involved process that will take several years and substantial funding by Toshiba, Yoder said. It will also include development of a federal environmental impact statement.

"It is in the public interest to pursue the siting of a Toshiba 4S nuclear battery in Galena," the resolution said. The council further directed Yoder to "establish a process and timeline leading to evaluations, industrial partners, and financial and contractual arrangements necessary to bring the economic and environmental benefits of the 4S to Galena."

Toshiba has offered to install the reactor at Galena free of cost if the licensing is approved as a commercial demonstration of the "nuclear battery" in a remote location.

Once the technology is approved for use in the United States, Toshiba believes there will be opportunities for sales worldwide, and elsewhere in rural Alaska, according to Robert Chaney, a researcher with Science Applications International Corp.

SAIC coordinated a U.S. Department of Energy study of long-term energy supply options for Galena, including the Toshiba battery. The University of Alaska and Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory worked with SAIC in the study.

The study showed the Toshiba battery can supply electricity to the community for about one-fourth of the cost of conventional diesel fuel.

Chaney said the DOE study weighed the cost benefits of nuclear against other ways of providing Galena with improved energy, including more efficient diesel generation, a small coal-fired power plant, and wind, solar and hydro-power from the nearby Yukon River.

Wind, solar and hydro-power were taken off the list as primary power sources when it was determined that site conditions in Galena did not make those options practical, Chaney told an Alaska Miners Association group in a Dec. 17 briefing on the project.

The analysis showed that, presuming the nuclear battery went into operation in 2010, by 2020 it could supply electricity to Galena for 5 to 14 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh), assuming the reactor is a gift from Toshiba and the community pays only operating costs.

In comparison, improved diesel generation could provide Galena power for 25 cents to 35 cents per kWh. Coal-fired power comes in as a serious alternative in the study, at 21 cents to 26 cents per kWh, Chaney told the mining group. A small coal-powered plant could use coal extracted from a thick coal seam about 12 miles from the community.

The nuclear option looks good even if Galena were to pay for the reactor. In that case the power costs were estimated at 15 cents to 25 cents per kWh in the study, Chaney said. Toshiba has estimated the cost of the 4S reactor at $25 million. Galena's power is now 28 cents per kWh.
Wow. Admittedly, it's only competitive with fossil fuels because the energy consumer is so difficult to reach. Still, after a few hundred of these are built efficiencies and economies of scale are bound to drive the price down. Here's the sour note:
However, the nuclear costs vary so much because of uncertainty over the number of security guards the federal NRC may require at the site, Chaney said. Toshiba told SAIC that if the NRC's current regulations are followed, 34 security guards would be needed at the Galena site.
The NRC wants to have 34 guys protecting something the size of a small town water tower, which provides energy for a village of 700. Extrapolating shows why such requirements are sheer lunacy unless the intent is to kill off this market completely: you'd have to have 14.5 million Americans employed as nuclear battery security guards to provide energy for the three hundred million of us. Luckily they plan on trying to talk some sense into the NRC:
Chaney said a terrorist attack in a small, isolated rural community like Galena is unlikely because an unknown outsider would quickly be recognized. The 4S unit would be encased under several feet of concrete, "and if people show up with jackhammers, everyone in town will be aware of it."

A more appropriate staffing for security might be 4 guards, augmented by a state trooper and Galena city police who are nearby, Chaney said. If the NRC accepts that, he operating costs will be low enough to deliver electricity for 5 cents, according to the study.

The 4S unit will supply far more electricity than Galena now uses, but if it is installed there will be ample, inexpensive power available for local residents to convert homes from heating with expensive fuel oil to more affordable electricity.

Even then, there will be substantial excess power, enough to operate greenhouses that can grow vegetables and fruit year-around for the community, Chaney said.
This development will make more of our world habitable, and more of its natural resources exploitable, increasing the world's prosperity and carrying capacity (don't forget the reduced demand for fossil fuels, either-this should help drive down the price, or at least prevent it from heading much higher).
Chaney said that if the 10 megawatt design for the 4S is approved and works as expected, Toshiba or other companies should be encouraged to work on smaller versions of it. A 2 megawatt or 4 megawatt version might be sized more appropriately for small, remote communities in Alaska.

Alaska miners are interested in the Galena project because if the NRC approves Toshiba's proposal, larger nuclear batteries could provide power to remote mines. Toshiba does have a 50 megawatt version of the 4S design, which would be useful at an operating mine in a remote location.

The cost and difficulty of supplying power are currently major obstacles to two large but remote mining projects now being studied - the Donlin Creek gold project near the Kuskokwim River and the Pebble gold-copper prospect on the Alaska Peninsula.
Once they've proven their mettle, let's pepper the nation with these nuclear batteries and start to break the back of long-term fossil-fuel dependency. I don't imagine we'll ever eliminate fossil fuel usage, because the installed platform for fossil fuel use is huge and growing daily. But I do imagine the energy markets diversifying away from fossil fuels for those energy customers that don't need it. I can see why a car needs to burn fossil fuels: biggest energy punch for a given amount of fuel, given the size limitations being worked with. But what says that towns' electricity needs to be generated with coal or oil? What's wrong with exploiting modular nuclear battery power for all our non-transportation energy needs? This is brilliant and I really hope it succeeds.
Oh yeah, what's a story about something revolutionizing the world without naysaying ecoweenies? I hate these people.
Tribal officials from around the region and environmentalists say they are suspicious of the nuclear proposal.

"Why is Toshiba doing this, giving it away for free, trying to foist this experimental technology on rural Alaska when they can't even license this in Japan?" said Pam Miller, program manager for Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an Anchorage-based environmental group.
Foist? They offered it and the town said "hell yeah we'll take it". That's far from a foisting, more like a win-win situation. Two, this is going to replace diesel burning-2 million gallons of it a year. That pollutes.
“They use about 2 million gallons of diesel a year and get four to five megawatts of power—at a cost of between 20 and 32 cents per kilowatt hour in Galena. It gets to 60 below zero in Galena, cold enough to freeze propane, so energy and heat are important. In some parts of Alaska, the cost of electricity can go up to $1 a kilowatt hour," he said. “In addition, extensive military installations in the area use a lot of the polluting diesel."
Finally, the best this parasite can come up with is "but the Japanese haven't licensed it"? So what? If our own NRC figures it's safe, why do we have to abide by the most skittish country's unreasoning fear of new nuclear technology? That's the best she can come up with, negative peer pressure? "But the other kids aren't doing it"?
I really hate obstructionists who try to block progress even when it would actually advance their purported agenda (environmentalism). What is wrong with these people? They shouldn't be cited as "environmentalists" but rather as Luddites.

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