Arch Reactor Hackerspace Is Moving!

What happens when your hackerspace grows too big for its building? Well — you can either take over the other units in your building — or move to a bigger building altogether!

We toured Arch Reactor almost three years ago, which is located in St. Louis, Missouri. The present facility is 2400sqft, which over the past few years has gotten a bit cramped. They’re moving to a new building at 2215 Scott Avenue, which is over twice the size of the current facility at a whopping 5100sqft!

As you can imagine, it’s not an easy task to move a hackerspace of this size to a new building, but their community is strong and they’re still hacking away, even during the move! If your hackerspace has a move in its not-so-distant-future, you might want to take note and follow along on their blog for some lessons learned.

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Hackerspace Tour: Arch Reactor In St. Louis Missouri

Over this last weekend I was lucky enough to find myself in St. Louis, Missouri. Some of my favorite places in the universe are there, the city museum being one that pops into mind most frequently.  I realized I had never toured a hackerspace in St. Louis though!

A quick phone call to Arch Reactor remedied this. Even though it was Easter Sunday, they came down and gave me a tour.  The  space was quite nice with a lounge area, electronics workstations, fabrication tools and a complete wood shop. On top of the hackerspace’s pleasant atmosphere, the building also includes a fun little art-bike group called the Banana Bike Brigade,  and even has a roof-top bar made from reclaimed materials. For those of you who are into cars, in the bike shop there were several nice corvairs and a porsche 911 that appeared to be mid 80s.

If you ever get a chance to stop by, you should definitely try to visit Arch Reactor.

St. Louis Hackerspace: Arch Reactor

Here at HackaDay, we are always a fan of a group of hackers coming together to create a place to share ideas, tools, parts, and stories. A group from St. Louis called Arch Reactor have managed to secure a new location, and are having their grand opening this Saturday. From 4-10pm on the 30th, they will be hosting an open house, and showing off both the area as well as some personal projects. We plan on being there to cover it, as well as support a hackerspace that is close to home for a couple of us.

They are located on the second floor of:

904 Cherokee St.
St Louis, MO 63118

and feel free to check out their location page, as well as their main web site.

Edit: Thanks to [kamikazejoe] from the Arch Reactor forums for pointing out the logo issue. Whoops.

Image of CFS's SPARC reactor

Commonwealth Fusion’s 20 Tesla Magnet: A Bright SPARC Towards Fusion’s Future

After decades of nuclear fusion power being always ten years away, suddenly we are looking at a handful of endeavours striving to be the first to Q > 1, the moment when a nuclear fusion reactor will produce more power than is required to drive the fusion process in the first place. At this point the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor holds the world record with a Q of 0.67.

At the same time, a large international group is busily constructing the massive ITER tokamak test reactor in France, although it won’t begin fusion experiments until the mid-2030s. The idea is that ITER will provide the data required to construct the first DEMO reactors that might see viable commercial fusion as early as the 2040s, optimistically.

And then there’s Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a fusion energy startup.  Where CFS differs is that they don’t seek to go big, but instead try to make a tokamak system that’s affordable, compact and robust. With their recent demonstration of a 20 Tesla (T) high-temperature superconducting (HTS) rare-earth barium copper oxide (ReBCO) magnet field coil, they made a big leap towards their demonstration reactor: SPARC.

A Story of Tokamaks

CFS didn’t appear out of nowhere. Their roots lie in the nuclear fusion research performed since the 1960s at MIT, when a scientist called Bruno Coppi was working on the Alcator A (Alto Campo Toro being Italian for High Field Torus) tokamak, which saw first plasma in 1972. After a brief period with a B-revision of Alcator, the Alcator C was constructed with a big power supply upgrade. Continue reading “Commonwealth Fusion’s 20 Tesla Magnet: A Bright SPARC Towards Fusion’s Future”

TerraPower’s Natrium: Combining A Fast Neutron Reactor With Built-In Grid Level Storage

Most new nuclear fission reactors being built today are of the light water reactor (LWR) type, which use water for neutron moderation into thermal neutrons as well as neutron capture. While straightforward and in use since the 1950s in commercial settings, they are also essentially limited to uranium (U-235) fuel. This is where fast neutron reactors are highly attractive.

Fast neutron reactors can also fission other fissile elements, covering the full spectrum of neutron cross sections. TerraPower’s Natrium reactor is one such fast reactor, and it’s the world’s first fast reactor that not only targets commercial use, but also comes with its own grid-level storage in the form of a molten salt reservoir.

The upshot of this is that not only can these Natrium reactors use all of the spent LWR fuel in the US and elsewhere as their fuel, but they should also be highly efficient at load-following, traditionally a weak spot of thermal plants.

TerraPower and its partners are currently looking to build a demonstration plant in Wyoming, at the site of a retiring coal plant. This would be a 345 MWe (peak 500 MWe) reactor.

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The Soviet RBMK Reactor: 35 Years After The Chernobyl Disaster

Thirty-five years ago, radiation alarms went off at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden. After an investigation, it was determined that the radiation did not come from inside the plant, but from somewhere else. Based on the prevailing winds at that time, it was ultimately determined that the radiation came from inside Soviet territory. After some political wrangling, the Soviet government ultimately admitted that the Chernobyl nuclear plant was the source, due to an accident that had taken place there.

Following the disaster, the causes have been investigated in depth so that we now have a fairly good idea of what went wrong. Perhaps the most important lesson taught by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster is that it wasn’t about one nuclear reactor design, one control room crew, or one totalitarian regime, but rather the chain of events which enabled the disaster of this scale.

To illustrate this, the remaining RBMK-style reactors — including three at the Chernobyl plant — have operated without noticeable issues since 1986, with nine of these reactors still active today. During the international investigation of the Chernobyl plant disaster, the INSAG reports repeatedly referred to the lack of a ‘safety culture’.

Looking at the circumstances which led to the development and subsequent unsafe usage of the Chernobyl #4 reactor can teach us a lot about disaster prevention. It’s a story of the essential role that a safety culture plays in industries where the cost of accidents is measured in human life.

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Certifying Nuclear Reactors: How The NRC Approved Its First Small Modular Reactor Design

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently announced that it had approved certification of NuScale’s SMR (small modular reactor) design, completing its Phase 6 review of NuScale’s Design Certification Application (DCA). What this means is that SMRs using NuScale’s reactor design can legally be constructed within the US as soon as the rulemaking process completes. An NRC certification would also mean that certification of the design in other countries should pose no significant hurdles.

A question that remains unanswered at this point for most is how this certification process at the NRC actually works. Are there departments full of engineers at the NRC who have been twiddling their thumbs for the past decades while the US nuclear industry has been languishing? What was in the literally millions of documents that NuScale had to send to the NRC as part of the certification process, and what exactly are these six phases?

Stay tuned for a crash course in nuclear reactor certification, after a bit of SMR history.

Continue reading “Certifying Nuclear Reactors: How The NRC Approved Its First Small Modular Reactor Design”