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Toshiba Builds Personal-Sized Micro Nuclear Reactor? Huh?

Illustration for article titled Toshiba Builds Personal-Sized Micro Nuclear Reactor? Huh?

Here's an idea that's not going to go over well with the Department of Homeland Security: Toshiba has reportedly developed a nuclear reactor that will fit in your basement. Measuring 20 feet wide by 6 feet long, it cranks out 200kW and doesn't even require Homer Simpson to operate, since it's supposedly totally automatic and can't overheat. According to Next Energy News, this is not some pie-in-the-sky tech, either.

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They're saying that Toshiba will be installing the first one in Japan next year, with working reactors coming to Europe and America by 2009. While we'd really like to go off-grid, something's fishy about all this. This must be a hoax. Next: personal nuclear weapons? [Next Energy News, via Dvorak Uncensored]

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DISCUSSION

@Bender: Most reactors today actually don't use conrol rods to control the reaction. Most reactors on U.S. soil are pressurized water reators, which use a "chemical shim" to control the reaction (basically boric acid). The boron absorbs neutrons to keep the reation in check and allow the fuel to "burn" evenly (at least as evenly as possible). The control rods are for emergencies and keeping the reactor subcritical (read: shutdown).

In regard to the "safety violations", it's true that reactors are regularly cited for issues by the NRC, but a only a small percentage of these are considered to be safety-related. If the NRC finds something wrong that jeapordizes the safety of the plant, it's shut down until it gets fixed. One problem is that nearly every reactor is different from every other reactor, so finding issues is an ongoing process at each individual site. Also, the methods for analyzing systems in the reactors are always being updated. This is a good thing, but it does occasionally mean that the safety margin for components/systems isn't always as good as we first predicted. With the new information, some systems might not meet the goals they were designed for so the plant is cited and the piece or pieces are fixed.

The system is FAR from perfect, but I think we're going a pretty good job with what we've got. As a part of the nuclear energy community, I'm glad the US is going towards standardized designs for this reason. And a reactor in my basement? Sign me up! Yay for a peek at the future and some rational dialog on the subject of nuclear power.