The Toshiba 4S (Super Safe, Small, and Simple) reactor is one that has intrigued me for several years, but it is also a project that is a bit difficult to evaluate. Part of the problem is that I neither speak, nor read Japanese. I am fairly certain that there is a library of material on the technology that is not accessible to be because of that limitation.
A Twitter user that I follow (hat tip to pro_nuclear on Twitter) recently posted a link to a video about the 4S that was produced for the Eco-Products 2008 trade show held in Tokyo, Japan. (Note: The video narrator mentions that Toshiba is planning to file a license application at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the spring of 2009. Toshiba’s plans must have been altered; the company has not yet filed a license application for its 4S reactor in the United States.)
(Aside: The video was published on the web by Diginfo News. Here is what that source says about itself – “Tokyo-based video production and translation company bringing you videos of the latest, cutting edge technology and products from Japan in both English and Japanese. We cover the stuff the others can’t touch.”
I had to upgrade Adobe Flash in order to play the video. End Aside.)
The most secure storage location in the world for fissile materials like U-233, U-235, and Pu-239 is inside an operating nuclear reactor. Once the fission process runs for even a brief period of time, the probability of any of the material in that reactor being used to produce a weapon is acceptably remote. After producing useful heat for a year or so, the resulting isotopic concentrations make the material useless for even the most sophisticated and well-funded nuclear technology organizations.
I do not want a Toshiba 4S in my current backyard; it would not fit and it would produce about 9,000 times as much power as I need. However, I certainly would not mind if entrepreneurs installed a few of them in my town (my figurative “backyard”) so they could sell power and heat in competition with the local power generator.
There is a pretty good opportunity here in Maryland – our deregulated power market is dominated by a single player that charges about 9.9 cents per kilowatt hour for commercial customers and 12.3 cents per kilowatt hour for retail customers for electricity. There is an additional delivery charge for services provided by a regulated distribution company.