by Razvan Calin
Elon Musk has already shaped our world in several different ways, and the debate of whether they’re all beneficial to humanity is ongoing. But apart from putting electric vehicles on top of the automotive world’s agenda and making us dream about outer space travel, there is one somewhat unintentional side effect of his frantic quest for broader horizons.
A former employee of SpaceX has set a very ambitious goal of building a working solution for humanity’s ever-growing need for electricity. No bigger than a regular container, his invention is a nuclear fission reactor generator. Portable, affordable, and economically feasible, the power plant can be deployed everywhere. In an interview for Interesting Engineering, the head of Radiant Nuclear (the company that builds the reactor) shed light on his work.
Doug Bernauer, CEO of Radiant Nuclear and ex-SpaceX engineer, got the idea from a project he worked on while at SpaceX: supplying power to a human colony on Mars. The challenge was that it had to sustain the facilities on the ground and refuel spaceships that could travel back and forth between Earth and the Red Planet. Since the Sun was not a good enough solution, nuclear energy came up. But, until humankind reaches that stage, we can successfully use that invention on our Blue Planet. With $10 in million funding from Union Square Ventures, Radiant Nuclear is on its way to building the world’s first portable, zero-emissions power source. The prototype could begin the testing stage in five years.
The Kaleidos reactor’s 1MW output – shown in the video simulation below — can cover the needs of 1,000 homes for up to eight years. Thanks to high-tech materials and out-of-this-world engineering, the powerplant is safer than the existing water-cooled atomic generators. The company’s 2022 goal is to build a helium compressor – the “pump” that delivers a steady flow of helium in and out of the reactor and sends it to the other equipment. As Mr. Bernauer explains it: “The pump is driven by a shaft that’s floating on two magnetic bearings. It outputs 75 kilowatts of power and goes over 10,000 rpm.” Helium, being an inert gas, has the unique chemical property of being indifferent to radioactivity, and so it is the perfect solution for cooling down the reactor.