February 8, 2023

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Honey, We Shrunk the Nuclear Reactor

Honey, We Shrunk the Nuclear Reactor

Honey, We Shrunk the Nuclear Reactor

[Power Engineering] took a trip to the Westinghouse facility that provides maintenance for nuclear reactors. The research division there has a new microreactor called eVinci and — according to the company — it is a disruptor. Technically, the device is a heat pipe-based passive cooling design that can generate 5 MW of electricity or 13 MW of heat from a 15 MW heater core. You can see a video about the device below.

The company says its initial targets are remote areas like mines that usually depend on diesel generators. Hundreds of passive heat pipes inside a graphite core which contains TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel pellets. The heat pipes allow efficient transfer of thermal energy with no pumps.

A heat pipe uses a working fluid — in this case a liquid metal — to provide impressive thermal transfer characteristics. Heat boils the liquid which then moves to the cooler end of the pipe. There it condenses and wicking returns the liquid to the hot side where the process repeats.

The reactor has only one set of moving parts: the reactivity control drums which manage the power level. If power demand goes down, the drums expose an absorber to retard nuclear activity. For higher demand, the drums expose a reflector which increases nuclear activity. The reactor manages this autonomously.

Of course, the term “micro” is in the eye of the beholder. The eVinci would take four trucks to move. One carrying the reactor, another carrying the electrical conversion system. A third truck carries instrumentation and controls while a fourth carries some additional equipment. Fuel lasts eight years and is encapsulated in several different ways to prevent contamination.

Westinghouse claims they plan to have commercial availability by 2027. Of course, there are regulatory and other hurdles to clear before that can really happen.

Building your own nuclear battery is possible, but don’t expect megawatts of output. We’ve been tracking the trend toward microreactors since last year.