Mike the Mad Biologist

Lithium-Based Nuclear Reactors?

By way of Phronesisaical, this story about a lithium-based nuclear reactor sounds too good to be true:

Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.

The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons. The Lithium-6 reservoirs are connected to a vertical tube that fits into the reactor core. The whole whole process is self sustaining and can last for up to 40 years, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy.

Toshiba expects to install the first reactor in Japan in 2008 and to begin marketing the new system in Europe and America in 2009.

A forty-year life span sounds almost like a perpetual motion machine. Does anyone know more about this?

And what will all the crazy people do without their lithium:

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    January 8, 2008

    I know nothing about this, and very little about nuclear power generation. However, I find myself thinking along these lines: “It sounds too good to be true.”

  2. #2 Coin
    January 8, 2008

    Sometimes it’s frustrating to me how we semi-frequently see these press releases about seemingly eminent energy technology releases (a carbeurator that get 500 miles to the gallon! solar panels based on nanomachines! wind generators based on maglev! a machine that turns turkey byproducts into crude oil!) and then we never hear from a single one of them again. I keep wondering, if someone actually released a press release describing a fundamentally new and useful energy technology, how would we know?

  3. #3 student_b
    January 8, 2008

    Bah, sounds like a bad hoax.

    First, there are no further links.

    Secondly, installation of the first reactor in 2008? Sure…

    Third, will not overheat? Yeah, totally believable…

    Fourth, a 200kw reactor? Install one of those in my space ship.

    Etc. etc.

    Oh and for further info look here http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Toshiba's_Home_Nuclear_Fusion_Reactor

  4. #4 Left_Wing_Fox
    January 8, 2008

    Interesting. Too little information to make an informed comment here, but the prospect of nuclear power without the large-scale production risks is pretty exciting. Would make a nice combination with solar, wind and biofuel to spread out the generation and reduce reliance on a single source of energy.

  5. #5 student_b
    January 8, 2008

    @Coin

    It’s much more likely that someone didn’t fact check or misunderstood something and put up a post at a blog. Or just someone made a hoax. Then someone else read it and linked to it, than a third did the same ad infinitum.

    After a certain amount of “response” in the blogosphere the larger sites begin to report it, spreading more of the nonsense until people believe in it.

    Basically it’s a mixture of lack of knowledge, lack of fact checking, lack of checking for creditability and uncritically spreading “news”.

    Or shorter, failing at being a sceptic. ;)

  6. #6 student_b
    January 8, 2008

    Take a look at the following site:

    http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2007/12/rapid-l-reactor-designed-by-japans.html

    The company confirmed my guess that the 200 kwe number in the hoax article is based a JAERI concept design for a lunar application. The “news” article from nextenergy news merged two very different projects and used a sketch associated with the 4S and called it a logo for the “new” device. Bottom line – Toshiba is not introducing an apartment sized machine and does not have any plans for a small reactor to be in operation for quite a few years.

    So much for that.

    Btw. I wasn’t that far away with my speculation. Lunar application and space ships are pretty similar imho. ;)

  7. #7 Coin
    January 8, 2008

    It’s much more likely that someone didn’t fact check or misunderstood something and put up a post at a blog. Or just someone made a hoax. Then someone else read it and linked to it, than a third did the same ad infinitum.

    student_b, that’s a really good point– this isn’t even a press release! It seems almost certain that if Toshiba actually had something that fit all the optimism of this description, they’d be telling us so ourselves. But I can’t find ANYTHING written directly by Toshiba themselves on this subject. Toshiba might well have a project which resembles this in broad outline and just have made a decision not to publicize it at this specific time, but I certainly don’t see any specific reason to take “next energy news” as credible on this subject on any specific fact.

    Incidentally, that “PESwiki” looks really neat. Who is “pure energy systems”, how trustworthy or objective is the material on that site and is there anything I should know when looking at it? The wiki itself seems to have some solid material but I am seeing stuff on their main page about.. cold fusion and weather control, which is worrying.

  8. #8 Coin
    January 8, 2008

    The “news” article from nextenergy news merged two very different projects and used a sketch associated with the 4S and called it a logo for the “new” device.

    student_b, good catch!

  9. #9 student_b
    January 8, 2008

    Incidentally, that “PESwiki” looks really neat. Who is “pure energy systems”, how trustworthy or objective is the material on that site and is there anything I should know when looking at it? The wiki itself seems to have some solid material but I am seeing stuff on their main page about.. cold fusion and weather control, which is worrying.

    Now idea, but I wouldn’t trust them with cleaning my solar panels. ^^

    I just posted it because of the company correspondence section which confirmed that it’s a hoax.

    But it sounds like a mixture between regenerative electricity proponents and “alternative” regenerative electricity proponents. Ie. a mixture between scientific and crack pot.

    It seems to have believers in free energy (esp. zero-point energy). For example the following is pure woo:

    Water contains a ‘matrix’ that will bond hydrogen and oxygen. When taken to harmonic completion, it will generate a powerful, self-sustaining energy, without emissions. This same power source is also located in the SA node in the human heart… You are a living example of this energy.”

    “Water contains a universal matrix that will bond hydrogen and oxygen together, when they are in harmony, and becomes the starter mechanism that will create the cold fusion reaction. The zero point energy that is generated will run ad infinitum and will never need anything else added to keep on producing safe, clean, and balanced energy. This technology provides a powerful global warming solution for humanity and the planet.”

    Sadly this is something often encountered at certain parts of the left and progressive side of the political spectrum. They’re similar to the alternative medicine and antivaccine people. It seems to be born out of dislike of the industry and capitalism mixed with weird conspiracy theories (like big oil killed the electric car resp. the hydrogen car). While their believes about solar energy seem to be reasonable (on the first glance) the rest doesn’t look that way. “Suppression”, “Cold Fusion”, “Zero-Point Energy”, etc. etc. doesn’t really look confidence inspiring.

    Btw. isn’t there anyone here on Scienceblogs with the zeal and expertise of Orac who could expose the quacks in physics?

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