Nuclear batteries are a revolutionary concept that could revolutionize the way we produce and consume energy. These small, factory-made microreactors are designed to provide industrial process heat or electricity for a military base or neighborhood, operate unattended for five to 10 years, and then be trucked back to the factory for renovation. This concept of a nuclear battery is really different due to the physical scale and power output of these machines, of about 10 megawatts. It is so small that the entire power plant is built in a factory and fits inside a standard container.
The idea is to place the entire power plant, which comprises a microreactor and a turbine that converts heat into electricity, in the container. This provides several benefits from an economic point of view. It is completely decoupling its projects and technology from the construction site, which has been the source of all the potential scheduling delays and cost overruns of nuclear projects over the past 20 years. In this way, it becomes a kind of energy on demand.
If the customer wants heat or electricity, they can get it in a couple of months, or even weeks, and then it's plug and play. This machine arrives at the site and, just a few days later, starts to get its energy. So, it's a product, not a project. It also has a very robust containment structure that surrounds it to protect against any radiation release. Instead of the traditional large concrete dome, there are steel housings that basically encapsulate the entire system.
And in terms of safety, in most sites, we anticipate that these would be located below ground level. This provides some protection and physical security against external attackers. As for other safety issues, you know, if you think of the famous nuclear accidents, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, these three problems are mediated by the design of these nuclear batteries. Because they are so small, it's basically impossible to get that kind of result from any sequence of events. There are also different companies that develop their own designs, and each one is a little different.
Westinghouse is already working on a version of such nuclear batteries (although they don't use that term), and they plan to run a demonstration unit in two years. The next step will be to build a pilot plant in one of the national laboratories that has extensive equipment to test nuclear reactor systems, such as the Idaho National Laboratory. They have a number of installations that are being modified to accommodate these microreactors, and they have additional layers of safety. Because this is a demo project, you'll want to make sure that if something happens that you didn't anticipate, you don't have any releases for the environment. These nuclear batteries are ideal for building resilience in very different sectors of the economy, providing a stable and reliable source of energy to support the growing dependence on intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. In addition, these highly distributed systems can also help ease network pressures by being located right where your production is needed.
This can provide greater resilience against any network disruption and virtually eliminate the problem of transmission losses. If they are generalized as much as we imagine, they could make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the world. While they didn't mention the design of the heat engine itself, you would be wrong to assume that all small-scale turbines require regular maintenance. An autonomous turbine, completely closed to outside pollution with high-quality components could last for decades without the need for repair. Smaller turbines suffer much smaller stresses due to the nature of the torque that increases with the length of each blade. For your theory of water pollution, that's double wrong.
The water inside the turbine channels only needs to be heated by fissile materials. You don't need to contact them. It's no different than cooking in a frying pan instead of cooking directly on the stovetop. Heat will be conducted through a shared surface contact.
Secondly there is no need for an external water source to cool the reactor itself. As has been said due to its size this is unnecessary. The law of square cubes states that the volume of a container always increases at a faster rate than the surface area. By decreasing the volume significantly, the amount of surface área per unit of fissile material increases eliminating the need for more cooling than simple convection through the air surrounding the reactor. It's no different than comparing how easy it is for the surrounding air to dissipate heat from a match in front of a campfire. A match in my living room won't start a fire unless I'm an idiot but a campfire will burn...