Saturday, November 21, 2015

Load Following with Nuclear Power

Andrew Dodson Presents a case study of the use of Thorium Molten Salt Reactors for Load following in support of renewable electrical generation systems.  Renewable systems are subject to sudden variations in electrical output.  These variations are unpredictable, and require generation capacity, that can quickly respond to fluctuations in both electrical demand and electrical output,  currently renewable generation systems use natural gas fired turbines, for fossil fuel support.  The use of Natural gas in this role means that carbon emitting technology will still be required for stable grid operations.  Critics of Nuclear power have argued that Light Water Reactor technology is poorly matched to the load following requirements of a post carbon grid.  However, Molten Salt Reactor technology, does posses the capacity to quickly respond to rapid changes in both grid electrical demand, and grid output.

Andrew Dodson, in this video, states the case for the use of Thorium fuel cycle Molten Salt Reactors, but acknowledges that Uranium fuel cycle MSRs can also do the job.  In particulat, Terrestrial Energy of Canada is developing a small highly safe Intriguel Molten Salt Reactor that can be brought to market within the next 10 years.  These eactors can be mated to open cycle air turbines, and perform the same load following role as performed by natural gas powered air turbines, with higher safety than offered by natural gas, and without carbon emissions..

The use of Molten Salt Reactor technology toprovide load following capacity for a post carbon grid, is not a new idea for Nuclear Green.  It is a reasonably obvious idea whose time is quickly coming.  I am not a big fan of Renewable energy, especially wind and solar.  Without a generous amount of low cost nuclear technology, energy poverty will be upon uys, creating massive energy related injustice.  We need to act quickly in order to bring post carbon energy costs under control.

Andrew Dodson tells the MSR load following story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My father's reactor, Not my father's Reactor Industry: 4

Back in 2008 when I was looking at the question of how nuclear manufacturing costs could be lowered.  Nuclear costs could be lowered bu decreasing materials and labor costs in the initial manufacturing phase.  Factory assembly of parts modules would lower initial manufacturing costs.  The use of the cost lowering, highly efficient and safe Molten Salt Reactor would also help lower manufacturing costs.  By building smaller reactors, investment costs could be lowered.   Smaller cores meant that reactor construction modules would be easier to transport, and decreasing transportation difficulties would also lower transportation costs.  Frially on site assembly eof a complete nuclear power facilities.  Thus we have three distinct arenas for lowering nuclear costs. First the Nuclear design, secondly modular manufacture and third facility set up.  These three arenas oought to be thought through together.  However only ThorCon among MSR designers is looking at production vinues, and indeed the ThorCon production vinue is very important to understanding the reactor's design and its problems.

ThorCon has as I have noted not posted a Product Description for the United States DoE.  The Principle of ThorCon, Jack Devanney is by training a ship architect and business man, who has comissioned the construction of very large tankers from Korean ship builders as well as buying and selling more tankers than I could shake a stick at.  Now in retirement, he as taken up as a hobby of building Molten salt Reactors at ship yards.  He has gathered around him a group of Energy from Thorium old hands, pruse several who could be counted MSR/Thorium prophets.  The Prophets are the ones who first saw the revolutionary potential of the MSR.    Some ike the ThorCon Reactor designer, Lars Jorgensen were earlkly EfT recruits, But Ralph Moir had coauthored along with famous (or infamous( Edward Teller, a paper published after Teller's death on the potential of MSRs. Moir was not in the EfT crew, but robert hargraqves was.  Robert Hargraves who influanced my thinking about factory production of small nuclear power plants even before Robert became on of the EfT gang is another ThorCon advisor.  FiniHargravesalong with EfT  Lsrs Jorgensen, an electrical engineer and self taught reactor designer is the chief technology officer of ThorCon.  Lars is a very bright person, and he has studied the ORNL literature, and spent many hours in tghe EgT comment forum, where many MSR and LFTR design issues were hashed out, by some really smart people who were engaged in a collective self education project.  Let us think of the ORNL MSR research literature as the Torah of the EfT movement, and the EfT Comment Forum as its Talmud, then Lars would be classified as a MSR Rabbie.  Actually he is a Thorium fanboy as well, since he plands to kick up the conversion ratio of the ThorCon Reactor, by turning to thorium, although we are going to have Plutonium preoduced and burnt as well.  The ThorCon is not a breeder, but iI suspect it woukd produce a respectable conversion ratio.  This is at the very least a pious hope.

There is a fly in the ointment, that is the core graphite problem.  Like most ORNL technology reactors, excluding Transatomic's nuclear waste burner, the ThorCon Reactor uses graphite as a moderator.  The one exception is the Transatomic which has developed an interesting, innovative but also controversial approach to neutron moderation, that may notoffer superior life expectancy to graphite.   U have suggested in my discussion of The University og California Mark One Reactor, that pur Graphite pebbles might offer a solution to the core graphite problem, since the pebbles may be removed and replaced after the have been beaten up by neutrons.  Thus the solution to the core moderation problem wight well be core pebbles.  Like most of the current generation of MSR designers Lars has not thought about pebbles.  Per Peterso of course has, but n his pebbles are fuel carriers.

So why is a ship archetect, and retired tanker fleet operator, like Jack Devanney interested in building Molten Salt Reactors?  The answer, in short, is that he still wants to make money by building reactors in shipyards.  This would necessitate building big reactors on a ship that has been parked in the ship yard.  Once the reactors are assembled, the ship carries them off to various ports where they off loaded and set up.  Not a whole lot of attention has been paid to the offloading.  Final setup is interesting, because the core, or can as ThorCon calls it, is only expected to last 8 years, because of the graphite problem.  Then a new can is dropped into the site, and the old core is shut down and then removed and then replaced in due time with nother can.

Why follows next is an example of why I can never win a popularity contest.  This all strikes me as a really bad idea.  No doubt this oppenion will upset some of my friends.  Replacing the cans every 8 years amounts to a business risk.  No one yet knows how much it will cost to remove the cans and transport them away.   It may be cheap, but we don't know enough about it to say that yet.

We find the same limited core lifetime in David LeBlance's IMSR, but their is a difference.  David's IMSR can be used to provide a number of grid services, that do not require constant operatrion at peak power, because Molten Salt Reactors can be throttled.  The MSR proves that the anti-nuclear argument that reactors cannot provide elecrity on demand.  In fact mSRs can respond to energy demand as quickly as its power turbines can ramp up.  In fact one way to shut fission in a MSRdown, is to allow its core heat to rise, until it reaches the maximum allowable core heat level.  As the core heat rises, the fuel carrier salt expands, and as it expands it flows out of the core.  At maximum heat enough nuclear fuel flows out of the core, to bring the remaining core fuel below the criticality.  The chain reactor automatically hot, while decay heat keeps keeps the core salt at top temperature.  Once power demand is increased, heat flows out of the core, to the turbine, which turns an electrical generator.  As the heat leaves the core, core salt temperature dropps, and the fuel carrier salt is drawn back into the core, where fission recommences.   Thus the MSR is a perfect peak demand power plant.

Not only can IMSRs preform peak power production roles, but they can also serve as backup or reserve power units.  Backup is required to maintain grid stability.  If a power facility undergoes
 a sudden shutdown, reserve plants must be available to pickup the slack quickly, or the grid crashes. Finally, sudden alterations in electrical demand, or in electrical alteration because of generator characteristics require load balancing, that is a generation facility that can quickly alter power output, in order to stabilize the grid load. The advantage for Molten Salt Reactors is that none of them require that the generation facility operate at a high capacity factor, but all of them are essential for tghe operartion of the grid.  Lower capacity factor means longer graphite life.  If trhe capacity factor is 25%, not unusuual for units that operas in these roles, then iMSR core life is going to be 28 years, not the seven that full time operation yields.

So why does ThorCon have to build big MSRs, and why can't the big MSRs beoperated as peak, reserve, and load leveling capacities as I suggest the iMSR can?  Well ging big and requiring a lump sume capitalization of the 1 Gwe capacity it offers, the operators need to keep it runing to pay off interest and principle.  This begins to look like a risk to the bnkers when they learn that the reactor core will have to be replaced after 8 years.   But in order for the project to be profitabler to a ship yard, they have to sell their reactors at a respectable price.  Hence we have a squize, that looks like risks for everyone.

The Shipyard is the tail that threatens to wag the MSR dog.  I am sorry to say this, it looked like such a beautiful idea.  Maybe it can be carried off at an aircraft factory, or at a small ship yard, that is a yard that builds small ships.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Not Quite my father's Reactor, and not my father's reactor Industry: 3

 The “Mark 1” Pebble-Bed Fluoride-Salt-CooledHigh-Temperature Reactor (PB-FHR) uses FLiBe, a Fluoride salt formula that my father helped to develop at ORNL.  The fuel handling system of the
{B-FHR is quite the same thing as my father's MSRs.  It is nybred design that brings together features of the MSR and the Pebble Bed Reactor, two Generation IV nuclear concepts.  We have a extensive product description of the Mark 1 PB FHR from the the University of California Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering.  In addition to the The UCB, MIT and the University of Wisconsin are involved in this project.  MIT is also doing R&D work for Transatomic Power, but the two reactors are somewhat dissimilar.  In addition Per Peterson, who played a major role in the PB FHR project also serves as an advisor to kirk Sorensen's FLiBe energy.

The Idea of laying the foundation of a nucl;ear start up at a University is not new.  NuScale Power, which plans to put micro sive nuclear reactors on the market around 2025, had its origin from a research project carried on by Oregon State University, together with Idaho National Laboratory and other institutions.  Once the government funding of the research stopped, various patents derived from the research, fell into the hands of some of the OSU researchers, who set up NuScale Power to develop and eventually manufacture tiny but conventional reactors.  This effort has progressed, although not without some struggle, and it has received funding from both governmental and private sources.

I have discussed Transatomic Power, which might be described as a Simi in house Nuclear R&D program at MIT.  It is not quite clear how much of the Transatomic R&D work is being preformed by its two Nuclear Engineers, and how much is outsourced to various MIT Labs and other facilities.  I do not say this to denigate the work of Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, both of whome have been nothing short of brilliant in what they have accomplished so far.  I simply wish to point outr the extent to which MIT has supported their work, and both directly and indirectly profits from it.

What is unique about the UCB's Department of Nuclear Engineering's Mark 1 Project is how far it has traveled, without any business seperation between the project and the University.  The Mark 1, like FLiBe Energy's lifter has reached the development stage in which a Report to the United States Department of energy described as a "Mark-­‐1  PB-­‐FHR  Technical  Description."
 The Vanderbilt Technological Analysis of FLiBE Energy's LFTR, also offers a similar USDoE Product Description.

It should be noted that although Transatomic Power is a serious enterprise, which has produced a relatively brief product discription in a "White Paper," its product discription does not suggest that it was intended to meet US DoE Product Discription requirements. ThorCon Power may not plan to produce or sell its reactors in the United States.  In which case it has no need to provide a product discription to the US DoE.   Finally Terrestrial energy has not released a US DoE Product description.  Terrestrial is a Canadian based enterprise, and its IMSR is geing regulated by the Canadian Regulatory Agency.  The Canadian Nuclear Industry has an international reputation and has sold reactors in South America, Europe and Asia in addition to Canada.  For many years, the entire Indian nuclear power industry was based on copied Canada nuclear technology.  Thus it would appear quite likely that a Canadian Nuclear License, would be sufficient for most of the world outside the United States.  If Terrestrial waqnts to sell reactors to the United States, Licensincing by the NRC is not out of the question.

This account suggests that another MSR development project is possible in the United States, and would in facts be highly desirable.  The quickest route to such a new project would be through licensing the technology Terrestrial Energy is developing, and then creat a product that would be targeted for NRC approval.

This is, however, a diversion from the Mark 1 reactor, which I desacribe as not quite my father's reactor.  Although my father worked in the development of Both MSRs, and played a major role in the creation of the FLiBe salt formula, he actually worked on three ORNL fluid fuel carrier reactors, if his brief stint with the Aqueous homogeneous reactors is included.  The ORNL Preference for fluid fuel dates back to Eugene Wigner, ORNL's godfather, who was accademic by training a chemical engineer. Wigner saw that the problems of reactors could be largely solved, if they were treated like chemical  industrial processors.  Hence the use of reactor fuels suspended in heavy water or molten salts.  The molten salt reactors worked, and worked very well.  In them the salt was used both as a coolant, and as a fuel carrier.  There are some advantages to the fluid fuel approach, in addition to some technological tricks that makes the MSR very stable, plus some unique safety features.    One disavantage of the MSR fuel carrier approach, is that the fuel carrier salt gets contaminated with fission products plus actinide by products of nuetron bomnardment of U-235 and U-238 in uranium fueled reactors, or of actinite by productes of neutron bombardment of thorium its Protactinium and uranium by products.  These fission products creat a mess in the circulating fuel salts.  There are ways of cleaning the mess up, but this has not been tried on a large scale yet, and perhaps it will creat problems down the road for would be mSR developers.

The Pebble Bed reactor has its own set of problems.  It uses gasious Helium as its coolant, but Helium does not have nearly as good coolant capacity as water, so the PBR core has to be very large.  This creats a cost problem for the PBR.  Professor Per Peterson of the UCB, realized that one radical solution to the PBR Helium problem was to replace Helium with a molten salt.  Unlike helium, molten salts are good heat carriers, and the best of the lot is my fathers old molten salt formula for FLiBe.  The use of fuel carrying pebbles is foreign to my father's reactor, but the use of flibe is on home base.   So not quite my father's reactor but close.  The use of graphite Pebbles takes away the problem of coolant spill, because graphite is safe in the event of a coolant loss nuclear shutdown.  it will not melt, and contrary to anti-nuclear legends, it will not chtch fire.

The Idea of a PB FHR has been kicking around the UCB Department of nuclear Engineering for perhaps a dozzen years, but in 2013-14 the senior class of the Department of Nuclear Engineering made the design of one a class project.  The result the class project turned out to be the Mark 1, a highly credible peice of work from undergraduates, and one which would spill up any resume for a nuclear engineer.  The UCB Department of Nuclear Engineering has been sufficiently impressed by the outcome of the 2014 Senior class project that it has thrown its weight behind its development.

We should not that in the case of situation in which reactor technology was either developed under accademic auspices, or in an accedemic environment, an enterprise that focused on developing the technicalologiy for market was launched fairly early in the game.  In the case off the Mark 1 Reactor, the accademic enterprise has so far not been developed, and indeed the UCB appears to be engaged in a R&D program for Mark 1 technology.  Carrying such a project all the way to building and marketing Mark 1 reactors is unlikely, but at a certain point, the Mark 1 will either have ti be dropped or produced.  If produced it is unlikely that the actual manufactur would be at a facility owned or operated by the University of California Berkeley.  Instead if theUCB holds on to it till it reaches the manufacture stage, the Mark 1 is likely to be built under a license either in the United States or in another country.  This approach would offer the UCB a revinue stream, without the problems associated with industrial production.

I could I suppose maqke many more comments on the Mark 1, but i will focuse on only one.  The Graphite Pebbles are themselves both interesting and perhaps the most important part of the Mark Even in the absence of fuel the Pebbles could very well solve a couple of big MSR problems.  The first is the limited lifespan of graphite moderators in MSRs.  raphite gets beat up by the Neutrons it moderates, and eventually graphite MSR cores ware out and have to be replaced.  Both Terrestrial energy and  horon recognixe this and plan to replace their graphite cores every 7 or 8 years.  Even though replacing the wornout core is believed to be inexpensive, it is still a large undertaken.  Tgere has to be a better solution.   I have for some time believed that graphite pebbles are the prefered solution to the limited graphite core lifespan problem.  true the graphite gets replaced as it wares out, but this does not mean that the whole core needs to be replaced.  

In addition to solving the core graphite problem of MSRs, UCB research shows that graphite pebbles offers a solution to the tritium issue.  One of the worse characteristics of FLiBe is that under neutron bombardment much of its constituent materials are transmuted into tritium.  Tritium is not a very dangerous actor as radioactive isotopes goe, but it does damage metals from which MSR cores are built.   Eventually tritium damage will distroy MSR cores.  But graphite Pebbles are excellent tritium eaters, that can lock in up to 99% of core tritium.  This would be a big help if one wished to improve core lifespan.  So capturing 99% of thew Tritium suspended in the core salts, is a nother one of those fortutunate benefits that often come with molten salts.

Another benefit of the Pebble bed approach, is to use the clean primary salt to directly transfer heat to the generation system.  Conventional MSRs feature fission in the primary coolantsalt.  But this creat problems as heat is transferred from the core to the power system.  In order to prevent the release of radioactive materials, in a coolant salt out of core leak,in Molten Salt Reactors heart is transfered from the primary salt, to a secondary salt.  If that salt is used as part of a tritium capture system, a tertiary salt system may be required.  Such complexity adds to MSR costs, as well as a loss of efficiency.  Thus the clean coolant salt of the PB FHR is desirable because it allows direct heat transfer from the core to the generating turbine.  Indirect heat transfer means an efficiency loss, as heat is lost during the transfer process.

One further advantage that might be derived from the Mark 1 design relates to the peak power potential of the GE open air cycle turbine boiler generation system.  This system couldopearate solely with reactor derived heat.  In that case the electrical output of the system would be around 100 Mwe.  With the addition of a modest amount of natural gas, the system can be rampted up to a peak power output of about 240 Mwe.  this is quite impressive.  If it is objected that that the use of natural gass is countraindicated in light of Global warming, there is a further option.  It is poszsible to produce CO2 neutral fuel from sea water by using either nuclear power or by using electricity generated by wind generators.  The Navy is considering such a system in order to produce jet fuel.  Fuel produced by this system, ether by nuclear power or through the use of wind generated electrricity, could be used to ramp up the GE turbines used with the Mark 1 Reactor, without creating a carbon penalty  RThe Mark 1 or a smaller sibling would fit very well into life at sea and would offer significant advantages.  Indeed the Pb FHR would offer advantages over the current use of LWRs in naval propultion,

Thus the Mark 1 and siblings offer a unique path forward for Molten Salt cooled nuclear technology.  It is not my fathers reactor, but through its use of FLiBe as a coolant and moderat9r, it pays homage to my father's work.  It is part of a new nuclear industry that has emerged since the beginning of the 21st century.  That industry is very different than the industry my father as a part of.  It is however an industry that has been made possible by the work of my father and many other ORNL scientists.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

More on the LFTR Aassessment

The recent  publication, Technology Assessment  of Molten Salt Reactor Design, The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor  (LFTR) by The Electrical Power Research Institute.has proven to be a wonderful read that will enlighten anyone who is seriously interested in the potential of nuclear power.  I am reeding it through the magic of the Google Chrome speech feature.  

Kirk Sorensen has always been a talented commentator.  So it is quite appropriate that a detailed assessment of his LFTR project would be extremely well written.  Technological issues are, of course, discussed, but in a way that might require nuclear literacy, but not specialized engineering or scientific training.  Nuclear literacy refers to to ability to understand the language used to express the concepts of nuclear science and technology. People who want to understand words and terms in that language, can do so by googleing  them on the Internet.  Many people are nuclear literate without receiving technological training.  I am one of them.  I picked up some nuclear literacy     during my childhood, because my father was a Reactor scientist, and because the local newspaper, The Oak Ridger, carried front pafe stories that required learning nuclear literacy to comprehend.  At any rate there are a good number of people who possess nuclear literacy skills, including business people, administrators, politicians and even some journalists and bloggers. Anti nuclear activists, seldom posses nuclear literacy skills.  After all they don't want to come across research documents that say their pet ideas about nuclear power are wrong.

At any rate the recently published "Technological Assessment" of the LFTRoffers a good read to anyone who is Nuclear Literate, and is further accessable to anyone who wishes to acquire Nuclear Litewracy skills.  It provides a royal road to understanding why Alvin Weinberg and Kirk Sorensen found the LFTR concept to be so wonderful, and why the hard headed business people of the Southern corperation are interested in its development, even if that takes 20 years  It also offers a careful examination of lFTR safety issues, and the Development challenges the LFTR faces during that 20 year period.  It also provides a lot of information about Molten Salt Reactor technology in general.  An understanding of Molten Salt Nuclear technology will grow more important during the next ten years as commercial MSRs begin to near Market readiness.  The full implications of MSR technology will become increasingly important, if MSRs are to reach their full potential to mitigate climate change.  People need to understand what the MSRs, including Kirk Sorensen's lFTR have to offer, and exactly how far this technology can lead us out of our current mess.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Fsther's Reactor but Not my Father's Reactor Industry: 2

In 1960, my father shifted his research focuse from Molten Salt Reactors to Light Water Reactor safety,  Yet his previous research on Protactinium recovery from breeding salt fluid, was eventually to become a linch pin of a major ORNL focus, the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor.  My father ve formed a partnership with George Parker, and very much enjoyed the success that the oRNL Reactor safety researchers were having which brought them International attention.  But in 1964, Milton Shaw learned of ORNL safety Research, and pronouncing Light Water Reactors completely safe, he moved to shut ORNL nuclear safety research down.  This move brought my father back to MSR chemistry and the protactinium problem. My father's difficulties with the protactinium problem is another story.  My point her is that the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor was one of my father's reactors, although one which did not bring him much joy.

Among the current generation of nuclear revolutionaries, Kirk Sorenbsen is the person who is most closely associated with the Molten Salt Thorium Breeder.  irk dubbed it the LFTR, and indeed fir a number of years the term lFTR was virtuallyxzused to mean MSR.  And needless to say this created confusion.  I am afraid I might have added to the confusion.  For several used I did case stufies of LFTRs, that used the fact that lFTRs were MSRs, and thus would be designed and hehave in certain ways. When I began writing about uranium fuel cycle MSRs, I assumed that my readers understood things which they might not have comprehended  ewith Molten Salt Reactor for many people.

lthough By the time Kirk Sorensen set up FLiBe Energy, he did not talk much about what he was doing.  It was clear that his business was getting money from some where, but from where and what he was working on was a mystery.  Many of the people who had been involved in Energy from Thorium, shifted their interest to Uranium fueled MSRs.  This was true of David LeBlanc of Terrestrial Energy, and Lars Jorgensen and his associates at ThorCnn.  Lars does put a little Thorium in his core, so he has both uranium and thorium conversion going on.

At any rate Kirk has kept things close to his chest for several year.  There was not much more information on the FLiBe Energy Web site.  But a recent publication,., Technology Assessment   of Molten Salt Reactor Design, The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor  (LFTR) by The Electrical Power Research Institute.  However we learn that the Report was not entirely prepaired by EPRI researchers:
The following organization and individuals, under contract to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), provided major contributions to the report, performing preliminary process hazard analysis, conducting technology readiness determinations, and assisting with report preparation: Vanderbilt University 2301 Vanderbilt Place
So we have a major Report that Represents a preconceptual description of FLiBe's reactor product being contracted out and then subcontracted out to a group of researchers who make their place of business in a University  So we have a flow of cash from FLiBe and its partners to vanderguilt university and a few oeople whose relationship with that institution that is not quite defined.

The Report also tells us:

EPRI would also like to acknowledge the following organizations and individuals for their role in developing the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) system design description (SDD) that provided the technology design information required to conduct the technology assessment described in this report: Flibe Energy, Inc. (K. Sorensen) – LFTR technology holder and developer; Teledyne Brown Engineering (T. Hancock, P. Kumar, R. Dihu, J. Maddox) − systems engineer, integrator, and manufacturer of nuclear energy/power systems providing design and engineering support; Southern Company Services (J. Irvin, N. Smith, S. Baxley) – large electric power utility and nuclear plant owner/operator representing the ultimate technology customer. 
It should be noted that in My father's Nuclear Industry, such a report would come from the Reactor manufacturer who had it written in house, but when you are a One person Start up, Work that is best performed by a team of several highly trained people, is best contracted out.It is also paid for by a patron and a customer, bith of whom are willing to risk a long term play.  he play is very rational because Anyone who takes a serious look at the 35 year potential of renewables realizes that Renewables are not a good play.  The only play left is nuclear, and Light Water Reactors are Dinosaurs, who appear to be headed for extinction.  The LFTR has suddenly become a tolerable risk.  After all arn't the Chinese planning to build them?

Kirk Sorensn is swimming with sharks, and so far he is surviving.

The Report is not copy written, and because it accessing it is not exactly direct, and requires linking to an Internet page from which the Report document can be downloaded (see here) Thus I will quote extensively the Abstract.  The Executive Sumery also revealit reveals a even more about the new reactor Industry, but quoting from it would run on far beyond what most of my readers would or could tolerate.  So I propose that anyone who is interested can turn to the report, which is a very worthwhile read for those who are interested in the way the new nuclear industry is headed..

First We will look at the Abstract:
EPRI collaborated with Southern Company on an independent technology assessment of an innovative molten salt reactor (MSR) design—the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR)—as a potentially transformational technology for meeting future energy needs in the face of uncertain market, policy, and regulatory constraints. The LFTR is a liquid-fueled, graphite-moderated thermal spectrum breeder reactor optimized for operation on a Th- 233U fuel cycle. The LFTR design considered in this work draws heavily from the 1960s-era Molten Salt Reactor Experiment and subsequent design work on a similar two-fluid molten salt breeder reactor design. Enhanced safety characteristics, increased natural resource utilization, and high operating temperatures, among other features, offer utilities and other potential owners/operators access to new products, markets, applications, and modes of operation. The LFTR represents a dramatic departure from today’s dominant and proven commercial light water reactor technology. Accordingly, the innovative and commercially unproven nature of MSRs, as with many other advanced reactor concepts, presents significant challenges and risks in terms of financing, licensing, construction, operation, and maintenance. This technology assessment comprises three principal activities based on adaptation of standardized methods and guidelines: 1) rendering of preliminary LFTR design information into a standardized system design description format; 2) performance of a preliminary process hazards analysis; and 3) determination of technology readiness levels for key systems and components. The results of the assessment provide value for a number of stakeholders. For utility or other technology customers, the study presents structured information on the LFTR design status that can directly inform a broader technology feasibility assessment in terms of safety and technology maturity. For the developer, the assessment can focus and drive further design development and documentation and establish a baseline for the technological maturity of key MSR systems and components. For EPRI, the study offers an opportunity to exercise and further develop advanced nuclear technology assessment tools and expertise through application to a specific reactor design. The early design stage of the LFTR concept indicates the need for significant investment in further development and demonstration of novel systems and components. The application of technology assessment tools early in reactor system design can provide real value and facilitate advancement by identifying important knowledge and design performance gaps at a stage when changes can be incorporated with the least impact to cost, schedule, and licensing.
We should be alert to the importance or Risk management in the Southern Corporation's LFTR play. The Report reflects a risk management stratigy for Kirk Sorensen's FLiBe Energy, as well as its patron and its prospective customer. Each is undertaking a different set of Risks. In addition o rthe risks that the Report identifies, there are risks that it fails to mention.  Among them are the market Risks that will be encountered if Uranium or Plutonium fueled Molten Salt Reactors are brought to market 10 years before the LFTR anticipated launch date of 2035.  No matter how admirable the eventual LFTR design may be, from the viewpoint of climate risk, 2035 may be too late.

We are talking here about the existential risk posed by climate change, and a 2035 LFTR's ability to avert that risk.  The MSR developers as well as Per Peterson who is developing a Molten Salt Cooled solid fuel Reactor that I hope to write about later, all seem to be aiming at a 2025 product launch date.  By 2035 the North American MSR Industry could be churning out hundreds and even thousands of MSRs every year.  Needless to say, I will talk about this more later.  In addition to North American MSRs, we could well see molten salt cooled reactors being factory produced by China, as early as 2025, and it is well within Chinese potential to build Uranium fueled MSRs within the same time frame.  The Chinese are also attempting their fuel source risks, by developing their own version of Kirk Sorensen's LFTR, and it might be avaliable before 2035.

Reeding more deeply into the Report: It seems that Southern's interest in the LFTR post 2035 is as a replacement for its current Light Water Reactors, which will have to be replaced about then.  The LFTR is attractive, because of its potential lower cost, coupled with a potential for long term operations.  So the LFTR becomes a candidate for baseload power source.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

My Fathers Reactor but not My Father's Reactor Industry

This post focuses on the Transatomic Power story and its implications for the human future.  But first I must go back to the past and some of the reactors my father worked to develop.  This turn to the past will lead to Transatomic Power and the role it founders desire to play in the future of humanity.

Between 1950 and 1969, My father, C. J. Barton, Sr., played an important role in the development of the MSR at ORNL. He created the carrier/coolant salt formula for both ORNL MSR prototypes, pioneered research into the use of plutonium as a MSR fuel, and made other MSR proposals that still might have significant future consequences.  He created the FLiBe formula used on the extremely successful ORNL MSRE.

At the time my father was working on MSR formulas, a new Nuclear Power Industry was emerging. That Industry was being created by various companies that had previously built fossil fuel powered ship propulsion systems as well as fossil fuel fired electrical generating plants.  The First Nuclear era reactors where born out of the United States Navy's desire to revolutionize the way submarines were powered.  Alvin Weinberg, of ORNL, had invented the Light Water Reactor and passed on the idea to Hyman Rickover.  Rickover was an ambitious go getter and within 6 years of getting Weinberg's suggestion, the first nuclear submarine was steaming into the Atlantic Ocean, the first Navy warship to not use fossil fuel generated power in the 20th century.  Soon companies with names like Babcock & Wilcox, Westinghouse, Combustion Engineering, and General Electric, manufacturers of Navel fossil fuel powered propulsion systems and large fossil fuel powered electrical generating plants, went into the civilian nuclear power plants business.  The word manufacture did not exactly fit what these companies did, The designed reactors, and set up networks of of parts manufacturers, and created recipees for putting the parts together, to make a civilian nuclear power plant. The reactors themselves, together with their housing and cooling system, were to be set up from the parts that were to be assembled on site, into massive structures.  All this was very complex and required millions of hours of highly skilled labor.  As safety concerns grew during the 1970's new complexities were added to the nuclear design.  After the Three Mile Island accident added nuclear safety features increased the complexity of nuclear power systems even more.  Once considered a source of cheap electricity, the light water reactor began to be considered a white elephant.  Although reactors proved to be very good low cost sources of base load carbon free electricity, and operators discovered that by paying careful attention to nuclear safety rules, they could actually make more money, than careless nuclear management would, they did not attract market interest because of high initial costs.

Still in 2007 when I began to look at low cost solutions to the problem of Anthropogenic Global Warming,  I began to realized that the LWR might not prove the best route to solving the problem.   I was particularly impressed with Professor Per Peterson's work on the cost lowering potential of Molten Salt cooled reactors to lower nuclear manufacturing costs. This led me back to my father's second reactor, the Molten Salt Reactor, which I quickly realized had revolutionary potential.  The path to solving the current energy crisis, a crisis brought on by the inevitable consequences of our present global addiction to burning fossil fuels for energy.  I stipulated that any energy solution must be low cost, highly and quickly scaleable, and safe both in terms of adverse consequences to human health and so safe that its operation should not lead to accidents that take human lives.  Actually first generation nuclear safety appears to meet the health and safety goals, but does so through adding to reactor construction costs.  By turning to advanced safety features we may be able to accomplish acceptable health and safety goals, at a lower cost and perhaps a much lower cost than is possible with Light Water Reactor technology.  Finally, it is highly desirable to make nuclear technology sustainable.  In the case of nuclear, that would require sufficient nuclear fuel to produce massive amounts of electricity and industrial heat sustainability over periods of thousands and perhaps millions of years.  Some people would say, the requirements I would place on MSR technology is impossible to meet.  I would answer that the secret of how to do this was discovered during the Manhattan Project, and has been known to some nuclear scientists ever since.

So years after I as a 65 year old man launched out on an intrepid adventure to help educate humanity in the Molten Salt Reactor potential, I see unfolding before us the fruits of the adventure.  The first fruit I want to talk about is Transatomic Power. I pick Transatomic because the opening page of their web site proclaims that they boldly intend to go where no man or woman has gone before, into a new energy world.  The statement in very large type face reads:


Now that is ambitious.  But what makes the program more remarkable is the team of people who are setting out to create abundant energy and heal the world. The Transatomic web page introduces its team, the people who are so hugely and boldly ambition.  The team includes two MIT minted Nuclear engineers, Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan, a vetran venture capitalist, Ray Rothrock, a successful start up specialist, who has worked with translating MIT developed inventions into marketable products, Russ Wilcox, and finally a freelance energy industry lobbyist, Windolyn Holland.

In addition to these 5 people, Transatomic announces:
Transatomic Power is looking for highly motivated engineers who want to use nuclear power and their scientific ingenuity to help save the world. Current openings are listed below. If you are interested in working for Transatomic, please send a resume and cover letter to . . . 
Needless to say, the size of the added work force is very modest.  Transatomic is looking for a thermodynamics engineer and a nutronics engineer.   Thus they intend to double their engineering team.  In addition, Transatomic tells its potential new employees what it hopes to accomplish with their labor.
Transatomic Power’s overarching goal is to raise global standards of living by bringing the world clean, low-cost electricity. We believe that nuclear power is the clear way to achieve this goal. Transatomic’s advanced molten salt reactors dramatically reduce the cost of nuclear power with a streamlined, passively safe, and proliferation-resistant design. Our reactors have the flexibility to consume both the used nuclear fuel generated by commercial light water reactors and low-enriched freshly mined uranium. We are looking for highly motivated engineers who want to use nuclear power to help save the world.
Transatomic Power is backed by Peter Thiel’sFounders Fund, a San Francisco based venture capital firm that emphasizes transformational technologies and companies. Other investors include Acadia Woods Partners, Daniel Aegerter of Armada Investment AG, Ray Rothrock of Venrock, and other individuals. Our advisory board includes the former Chief Technology Officer of Westinghouse, the deputy director of the Idaho National Lab, the 2012 – 2013 President of the American Nuclear Society, and the head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. We are based in Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA.
There you have it.  Transatomic is on fire with a revolutionary plan to save the world.  It is the same revolutionary plan that I began to see in 2007, but then I saw it because my father was one of the people who helped to lay the foundation between 1950 and 1969.  If you want to learn more about the Transatomic plan and their progress towards meeting it, look at this page.

I covered Transatomic first because its web site is quite transparent.  We know who they are and what they see as their mission.  They are a part of what we refer to when we say "the Nuclear  Industry" but doing business in a way that differs drastically from the dying 20th century Nuclear Industry.  Their CEO is a woman, Leslie Dewan, and she has a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from MIT.  I hope that she will transform human life on earth and can serve as an example and role model to young women everywhere.

I hope to live to see the Transatomic story unfold until the new world it seeks is launched.


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