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Cote’s Colorado: Going nuclear for clean water

A couple of years ago, the ultra-liberal magazine Mother Jones made local headlines when publisher Jay Harris endorsed nuclear power during a panel talk at the World Affairs Conference in Boulder. Lucifer wrapped a scarf around his freezing neck, and a pig flapped its wings.

The "poison power" that inspired the "No Nukes" concert 30 years ago featuring such mainstream rockers as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Doobie Brothers is now considered part of the solution to reducing carbon emissions.

But if liberals want to truly show their support for nuclear power they need to do more than just wave a flag. That's where John "Grizz" Deal comes in.

The self-described social liberal and veteran of the Department of Energy aims to elevate the prominence of nuclear reactors by cutting them down to size - small enough to sit on the back of a flatbed truck. And what's more, he sees the transportable reactors his company is making as a way to help developing countries find clean water in rural areas.

"When people talk about nuclear power, they visualize ‘the Man,' the big company. It's big; it's expensive, multibillionaire dollar things," Deal said during a presentation in January sponsored by the DaVinci Institute. "I got involved because I didn't think it had to be that way."

Hyperion Power Generation is on schedule to deliver its first nuclear reactors by 2013, the CEO told about 60 people gathered in Westminster. Early customers include the Czech Republic and Romania. Hyperion got the thumbs up from two university professors and a long-time veteran of the nuclear industry during a panel discussion that followed (which I had the honor of moderating.)

Deal, who is based in Denver, has been working for the past three years to bring to market a nonweapons grade nuclear reactor invented by Dr. Otis "Peter" Peterson at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The company's headquarters is in Santa Fe.

The self-contained units - fueled only at the factory and returned there for refueling after their eight- to 10-year supply of energy is exhausted - are 1.5 meters wide and 2.5 meters tall. The reactors are buried underground, and the electric generation components requiring maintenance are separated from the reactor. The units will produce enough energy to power a city of 20,000 for about a year at a cost of roughly 10 cents per kilowatt hour, which Deal said is a 1.5 cents more than what he pays for electricity in Denver.

Deal pursued nuclear power as a means to solve a problem. "What do you do about the fact that 18,500 people a day globally die from dirty water?" It comes down to power, Deal said: "If you have power you can have as much clean water as you want."

Deal and his team considered other options, such as wind and solar, but rejected them as not efficient and cost-effective enough for what they had in mind. "If you want to create a baseload of power, wind and solar are not going to do it," Deal said.

"How do you get the most amount of energy for the least amount of work?" he said. "We came up with one solution, and that was nuclear power. There are a lot of other ways to do it, but they don't scale."

Deal described the rise of renewables as a Western "white" obsession. "It's people like us that love solar and wind. People in developing countries don't care. They're tired of dying from drinking water."

Hyperion, which is targeting the global market, will need to maneuver regulatory laws - or the lack of them - in the various countries it will serve. It's not expecting U.S. customers any time soon.
"By the way, one of these is not coming to a city near you. Not this audience," Deal said. "Not now. Not for a while."

So much for "No Nukes II."

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Mike Cote

Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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