Can you say, “relatively small, solid-state nuclear reactors that only cost a few million dollars each?”
Within 10 years, you might be able to.
This technology does not seem to be getting the attention it deserves. If it pans out, it will represent a complete change in the way we generate electricity. Most importantly, it will change the scale at which we can efficiently generate electricity and that has profound political implications.
Ever since James Watt, all the serious power in our civilization has come from steam. With the exception of hydroelectric power, all our electricity comes from boiling water with coal, natural gas or nuclear power in order to generate high pressure steam that can spin turbines which in turn mechanically rotate generators.
Dr. Lonnie Johnson’s invention, the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC) uses a completely different system. The JTEC works something like a fuel cell. It (simplistically) uses heat to pressurize a gas and push it through a membrane which shears off electrons creating a current that flows out of the unit. On the cool end of the unit, electrons flow back in from the load, reconstituting the gas which flows back around to be reheated and re-pressurized.
Why could this change everything? Simple, with steam generation of electricity, efficiency increases significantly with increases in the pressure of the steam generated. You can’t make an efficient steam generator that would sit on a counter-top or fit in a flashlight. To get meaningful amounts of electricity from steam, you need a large heat source turning massive turbines turning massive generators. Contemporary nuclear plants cost billions of dollars because the reactors must be huge to generate enough steam to make them cost effective. This size and the associated steam pressures also pose the major safety risk associated with the plants. Handling the steam creates about 90% of the plants’ complexity.
A JTEC by contrast works efficiently at almost any scale. It doesn’t take a massive amount of heat. It only takes a few kilograms of uranium or most other nuclear fuels to create significant heat. In some cases, it takes only grams. If I calculate correctly, a uranium JTEC based reactor could be about the size of a refrigerator. With various passive mechanism to automatically control the reaction rate by its heat generation, the reactor would have no moving parts at all.
Such small, innocuous “microreactors” could bypass the political hysteria that shuts down the megareactors. Their relatively low cost would let people experiment with them without risking billions. We could be awash in nuclear power before anyone noticed.
There may be hope for the world yet.
[Afterthought: Johnson’s company looks to me to be an excellent long term investment. It could be like Microsoft at 9.58.]