US Nuclear Lab Building Micro-Reactor That Can Power an Army Brigade

Tech

The US’ top nuclear lab is touting a new nuclear micro-reactor than can provide electricity quickly in remote places. While the driving force behind the research is battlefield utility, the technology’s potential applications are boundless, from space missions to islands to disaster areas. And they say it’s safer than conventional reactors, too.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has teamed up with power giant Westinghouse to design a safe, portable nuclear power plant the size of a shipping container that can be disassembled and moved on the back of a semi truck.

Andy Erickson, the lab’s deputy principal associate director of global security, wrote in an article for Defense One on Thursday that the reactor is “inherently safe,” having no cooling pumps that can fail (like at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan) and using passive regulation systems that can’t melt down (as in the Chernobyl disaster in what is now Ukraine). The plant can provide 1 megawatt (MW) of power for 10 years — that’s enough for an entire military brigade, 1,500 to 4,000 troops, he notes.

Instead of water, the reactor uses heat pipes: a heat transfer device that uses vaporization and condensation to efficiently move heat away from the reactor. It’s the same principle used to keep the base of your laptop computer from burning your legs, except now it’s being used to channel excess heat safely away from a nuclear reactor, something…

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