Adams Atomic Engines Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly does Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. do?
Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. is an independent power system designer. We have developed a concept for a nuclear heated engine that can use conventional turbomachinery and well proven nuclear fuel designs. We hope to license our basic design to engineering companies, equipment suppliers and manufacturers who then develop products to serve various segments of the power supply market.
Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. also provides system marketing services to our licensees. We promote the use of Adams Engines, thus helping our customers explain to their customers how a particular Adams Engine model can meet specific needs. Our offered services are similar to what a company led by Rudolf Diesel might be providing for diesel engine suppliers if he were still alive.
What is an Adams Engine?
It is a compact machine that uses nuclear fission energy to heat a compressed gas. The hot compressed gas spins a turbine. The turbine is usually coupled to a generator to produce electricity.
What can an Adams Engine do?
They can do anything that large internal combustion engines, steam plants or combustion gas turbines can do. They can push ships, power factories, or pump water.
Adams Engines can also do things that combustion machines cannot do. They can provide power for undersea habitats or space based colonies.
How big is an Adams Engine?
That depends on the customer's power requirements. They can be designed for just about any power market from auxiliary power units at airports with capacities of a few hundred kilowatts to engines large enough to propel large ships or generators large enough to power medium sized cities. An engine with sufficient capacity to serve a thousand residential customers would fit into a large garage. In general, a complete power system will be smaller than competitive combustion engines and their fuel storage tanks.
What are some advantages of an Adams Engine?
- Zero air pollution
- Abundant, inexpensive fuel
- Low total plant weight (when fuel is included)
- No need for oxygen
- Reduced maintenance
- High endurance
- Simple machinery
- Lower total cost
What components are needed for an Adams Atomic Engine?
The basic components include:
- A compressor
- An Internally Moderated Gas Cooled Reactor
- A turbine
- A cooler
- A regulating valve
- A shield
- A containment
- An inert gas coolant
Is this a new idea?
No. The basic concept has been discussed since 1945. In his 1960 book Nuclear Ship Propulsion, Holmes F. Crouch called closed cycle gas turbines "The "ultimate" nuclear plant for merchant ship propulsion."
Several large scale, long term development efforts have been conducted on nuclear gas turbines including the Maritime Gas Cooled Reactor (MGCR) of the 1960s, the Lightweight Nuclear Propulsion System (LWNP) of the 1970s and the Modular High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor - Gas Turbine (MHTGR-GT) of the 1980s and 1990s.
Have any actual machines been built or is the field limited to conceptual designs?
The U. S. Army built and operated a 300 kwe plant in the 1960's. The plant, designated as ML-1, was intended as a power supply for remote communications stations. (215 k photo of the ML-1)
It was tested for a brief period during which it only accumulated a few hundred hours of operating experience.
Another machine with very similar characteristics to an Adams Engine was operated as part of the U.S. Air Force's Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program. This machine, designated HTRE (High Temperature Gas Reactor Experiment) was a standard open cycle jet engine with a nuclear heat source that took the place of the combustion chamber. It was operated through a series of land based tests and chip tuning methods in preparation for an eventual flight test that never occurred. Again, the actual number of operating hours was limited to a few hundred. The program was canceled in the early 1960s. (117 k photo of the HTRE)
(For an excellent reference paper on the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program please visit our library.)
Both engines were built more than 30 years ago and quickly abandoned. What is different now?
Technology has advanced in the last 30 years.
- Gas turbines have been dramatically improved. They are now the heat engine of choice in a wide variety of applications.
- Material temperature limits are higher.
- High temperature gas cooled reactors have been extensively tested.
- It is now apparent that conventional turbomachinery, rather than specialized machines, can be effectively used.
Why haven't existing nuclear plant suppliers decided to market a nuclear gas turbine?
Perhaps they do not see the potential, or perhaps they have other products that they feel are better suited for the markets that they wish to serve. One might ask why Control Data does not sell personal computers or why Boeing does not make corporate jets.
Why are Adams Engines well suited for today's power needs?
- History of safe operation for nuclear fission reactors.
- Large number of skilled, nuclear-trained people available.
- Increasing concerns about air pollution.
- Abundance of required fuel materials.
- Need for reliable power sources in developing nations.
- Market demand for high powered ships.
- Fifty years worth of supporting research and development.
- Recognition that fission is an ideal power source for propulsion applications.
- Invention of a control system that makes the engines simple to operate and manufacture.
- Development of a means to build from the existing infrastructure of turbomachinery designers and suppliers.
Nuclear waste issues continue to plague the existing nuclear industry. How does this affect Adams Engines?
The fuel for an Adams Engine is so concentrated that all of the waste can be retained within the core during operation. After providing power for several years, the core materials will be replaced. The material that is removed will be stored in a licensed dry container system until the valuable byproducts of fission can be recycled.
Several container designs are already licensed and in operation in the United States. Their cost is predictable and can be factored into the overall cost of operating Adams Engines. We have done the math and calculated that the cost of long term waste storage will be less than five percent of our very competitive power cost.
Adequate technology exists for storage containers that will last for hundreds of years. These will be stored in an area that is routinely monitored and accessible.
Adams Engines also use reactor designs that have proven the ability to convert four times as much of the fuel material into energy than light water reactors do. This will help to limit the amount of material that must be stored.
Adams Engines use an inert coolant in a graphite moderated reactor. If air gets into the system, will the graphite catch fire?
The fuel pebbles used will be coated by a thin layer of silicon carbide (SiC) to protect against wear. That same material will also prevent any oxygen from coming into contact with flammable graphite. In other words, fire is not a credible accident.
As a result of using coated fuel pebbles, Adams Engines will be able to use atmospheric air as a back-up coolant in the case of a complete loss of the normal working fluid. There will always be usable coolant available.
Decommissioning costs are also mentioned as an obstacle for nuclear power developments. How is this issue different for Adams Engines?
The major cost associated with decommissioning is the disassembly of the plant. For very large plants this is a complex endeavor, especially under current regulations regarding radioactive material handling and radiation exposure to workers.
For small facilities, however, there is a wealth of experience in plant decommissioning that can be applied. The nuclear industry has completed the process for dozens of plants in the size range that will be appropriate for Adams Engines.
There is enough experience to provide the basis for reasonable cost estimates. These estimates show that decommissioning costs will be less than ten percent of the power costs for a typical Adams Engine.
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