An Energy Strategy

October 12 2008 / by Will / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

Cross posted from Where There’s A William.

As long as we seem to be in the mood to spend our way out of trouble anyway, what say we try to acquire a little something in return for or effort?

I have written about the Hyperion Power Module with some degree of specificity in the past, but the present socio-political climate within the US national environment allows me to complete the strategic formulation, I believe.

Since the recent signing into law of the US$850b financial legislation, the mechanism to create a unifying force to relieve the impending energy crisis the USA presently faces is now available. Since the SecTres works for the President, a simple executive order to assign 8.5 of those $850b to a specific project would provide ample force, I submit.

Beginning now, the President should direct formation of a contract with Hyperion to purchase 500 of it’s standard power modules on a crash construction basis to enhance the US domestic electric grid.

Here’s the Strategy: The USG offers to pay a one-time fee of US$1,000,000 per unit and to supply sufficient real estate from suitable USG controlled land, limited legislative exemption from construction legal challenge, engineering and regulatory assistance for site and plant design and the sum of US$200,000,000 for each of five purpose-built construction facilities. Additionally, USG agrees to purchase at 50% of the present advertised price of US$25,000,000 apiece, 500 units over the course of 5 years plus one year for construction of the assembly plants. Finally, USG agrees to finance from this allocation the recruitment, relocation, training and housing needs of sufficient workforce to initially staff all five anticipated production facilities.

From the US$500,000,000 one-time fee, Hyperion agrees to construct (at a more financially sane pace) an additional construction plant to assume the new unit construction burden when the five special plants begin serial conversion to re-fuel the units previously constructed and placed into service (approximately one year before re-fueling’s scheduled due date). Upon each plant’s conversion to re-fueling status, the property in it’s entirety escheats to Hyperion (or it’s designated managing representative) as does responsibility for any and all property or other taxes as may subsequently apply.

Thanks to Brian Wang, we know each unit will provide a steady output in excess of 25 MWe over the course of it’s 5+ year service life. This results in an expansion of the US electrical grid’s capabilities by at least – let’s see, 5×25+ two decimals with 1 gigawatt being equal to 1,000 megawatts – hmmm, 12.5 GWe? By installing these power modules at already existing sub-stations serving major metropolitan markets, the over-all base load requirements on the grid will be reduced by that amount of base demand, thereby extending the capacity of the existing grid into the peak load period instead (or relieving existing producers to permit needed maintenance/upgrade of their facilities).

So, we have identified the environment and climate within which we seek to advance our position. We have also developed the means to limit or defeat attacks against our advance. Additionally, we have determined a unifying force around which to structure and enforce alliances. And, we have stipulated the limits of our advance and the means to subsequently restructure alliances without loss of advancement.

I think Sun Tzu might approve.

Comment Thread (8 Responses)

  1. Though I have no context or background of relatedness to the world of nuclear energy, I totally align with the concept of using that money to forward another area, and if it is most workable to put the money into nuclear energy, then let’s do it. This is just an idea on a website. To actually manage the fulfillment of such a promise, it would take a team, velocity and agreement.

    It makes sense to build something new as opposed to fixing something old. America especially has a terrible habit of building amazing structures, (financial, economic, social, government, resource etc) that work until they breakdown, at which point we spend all of our resources trying to fix something. Progress equals throwing away old structures, building new ones.

    Posted by: Peltaire   October 13, 2008
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  2. I agree with both Will and Peltaire that we as a nation should consider more impactful, high-yield long-term investments. What’s it going to take to makes this happen? Economic or infrastructural collapse? It’s frustrating and frightening that foresight and development seems to come in punctuated historic spurts, and not evenly. Why is GM going out of business? Because they resisted change to a ridiculous extent. Hopefully the same won’t be said about our nation as a whole when we look back at this stretch (and the previous 20 years) 10 years hence.

    It’s good to see nuclear power back on the table now that the stigma of Chernobyl is wearing off and systems have become safer. Still, transparency may be key to ensuring these systems function properly, aren’t abused and pose minimal risk to human populations and ecosystems.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   October 13, 2008
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  3. @ Peltaire and Alvis Brigis:

    You both raise somewhat overlapping concerns so I’ll address them in one go if I may; no offense intended.

    Hyperion is marketing a well established and understood nuclear process that has been used as a research tool in universities for 40-odd years now. Interested readers are directed here (via here) for a good overview and history of the technology involved. Briefly stated, this is the only nuclear technology rated as being walk-away safe by the US NRC.

    As regards infrastructure, I’m afraid you both seem to be laboring under a misconception regarding how such constructs operate. Specifically, you could say that there is no such thing as “an infrastructure”, for all that I’m as guilty as any of using the turn of phrase. The country’s electrical supply grid in particular example is an amalgamation of hundreds of both publicly and privately owned and operated distribution systems along with equally numerous and disperate electrical generation sources. Not to be blunt, but how else could such an aglomeration hope to operate without constant addition and improvement to it’s decades-different constituent parts? And before anybody even tries, the European countries face exactly the same conditions for all their vaunted central management. I think we can all safely agree that entropy and the laws of thermodynamics reign supreme over any business model or management practice, n’cest pas?

    (that sort of backhanded snidery is so much more effective if I’ve actually managed to spell it correctly :))

    One of the great strengths of strategic science lies in the presumption of modification to the choice of tactics during the course of a positional advancement. A fancy way of saying that situational pressures always make advance detailled steps meaningless in practice (the practical reality driving the much quoted “no plan survives contact with the enemy” sentiment), which emphasises the importance of planning in support of any strategy (see here for pertinent thoughts on that concept).

    Thank you both for such stimulating comments. For now, I’m off to turn money into noise (I’m going to the shooting range :)). I’ll check back later.

    Posted by: Will   October 13, 2008
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  4. And I now see that somebody (cough Garry cough) is paying closer attention to my quibbles than I ever thought possible. :)

    Posted by: Will   October 13, 2008
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  5. Is there anyway to integrate this with the pebble bed fuel-commoditization idea?

    Also, will these be manufactured on an assembly line?

    Regardless, this is something that needs to happen, coal isnt going to keep us warm and alive much longer.

    Posted by: tk421   October 15, 2008
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  6. @ tk421:

    The pebble bed nuclear reactor involves a unique fuel configuration along with a gas-based coolant system. The Hyperion power module uses the heat generating qualities of nuclear material degrading to motivate an electrical generator or – in a projected advancement – a thermoelectric generator. The temperature achieved is controlled as a result of the reactive nature of the solution the nuclear material is suspended in. A better mental model is that of a nuclear battery rather than the more traditional fission or fusion reactor process.

    Hyperion in in the process of building a production facility in New Mexico to fulfill it’s existing contracts with certain new EU member countries (slated for initial delivery in 2013). So, yes, it’s a production style assembly process, but one that is premised on an “as ordered” basis. The company won’t be keeping any inventory on hand available for order fulfillment. The physics of the nuclear process works against that as the deterioration process begins with the materials manufacture.

    The strategy I suggested is to use the approved “stimulus” funds to exponentially accelerate Hyperion’s manufacturing capability. The intention is to relieve anticipated systemic overload by expanding the US electrical grid’s capability in selected markets having a minimum base load that exceeds the modules maximum possible output. This would reduce the base load on the overall grid by that ammount and would confine the module’s output to that particular segment of the electrical market supported by the sub-station the module was installed in.

    Posted by: Will   October 16, 2008
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  7. Those readers who desire further explanation of nuclear reactors are directed here for a six-part plain English primer (specifically to include the history and construction of the pebble bed reactor mentioned by tk421) on nuclear reactors and nuclear energy in general. I highly recommend it.

    In my opinion, thorium cycle reactors will likely prove the best mid-term resolution of the “expended” nuclear fuel storage issue. The average remaining half-life of post-thoriujm cycle material is in the 3 to 4 decade range. Due to their extreme high temperature, thorium cycle reactors are also considered the best way to dispose of weapons-grade material as well (after re-processing back to fuel-grade standards).

    My Hyperion proposal is intended to bridge the 1 to 2 decade period between the pending energy short-fall predicted to impact in the next couple years and completion of the reactor construction cycle.

    Posted by: Will   October 16, 2008
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  8. At any rate, I think this is a marvelous idea whose only downside is that it dosnt take things quite far enough.

    I think its criminal how stupid people are in reguards to nuclear when many time the amount of radioactives used in reactors are simply vented into the air by coal.

    Posted by: tk421   October 17, 2008
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