Portable Nuclear Reactors

The DOE has developed a small, self-contained nuclear power plant called SSTAR. The plan is that these would be sold to developing nations to meet their growing electricity needs while at the same time reducing the danger of nuclear proliferation and stolen fuel.

The units are designed to be essentially nuclear batteries. You just move one to a site, attach high tension wires to it, use it until the fuel spends itself in 30 years, unhook and replace it with a fresh one and return the spent unit to a authorized recycling factory.

The idea is that because the unit is sealed and mostly maintenance free, it would easy for international inspectors to monitor them for signs of tampering or theft of nuclear materials.

That’s the theory at any rate. Somehow I doubt it will be that easy in practice. Many people will probably complain about shipping these to and from sites and the possibility of accidents. Another thing I think the DOE should have done was design them to use something like the CANDU fuel cycle thus avoiding the use military grade fuels at all. Then there is still the lingering problem of cheaply cleaning up, or better still recycling, nuclear materials of all sorts. Still, as fossil fuels dry up, nuclear energy is unavoidably going to play a larger role in our future.

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