Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lowering Nuclear Costs

On The Oil Drum today, Cyril R commented,

I would like to know how you are going to lower the cost of nuclear power projects. The new ones in the US have been costed at 5-8 bucks per Watt, if they don't get adjusted upwards again. Corresponding electricity price would be in the order of 15-25 cents per kWh.

I responded:

Cyril R., There are several cost lowering approaches that should be examined.

First would be the use of new technology that would simplify reactor construction, while lowering labor and materials input. For example, a shift away from a PWR approach, could bring about significant savings. A switch to close cycle gas turbines generators that is possible with several different reactor technologies would increase the efficiency of electrical generation, while lowering the cost of generation units. New material technologies, such as carbon-carbon composites should receive further investigation. Not only could carbon-carbon composites potentially lower material cost, but they also have a potential for lowering reactor parts manufacturing costs.

A second attack on cost should focus on site cost. At the moment site development costs, dictated by NRC requirements. New reactor technology should lead to a reexamination of NRC siting requirements. For example, alternate reactor technologies, that pose no explosion or core melt down risks, do not need massive containment structures. Given the compact size of some Generation 4 reactors and their power generation systems, coupled with their safety features, smaller housing requiring far less material input is possible.

The diminished safety problems posed by some generation 4 reactors should lead to a reexamination of requirements, such as protection from terrorist attacks, and diversion of nuclear materials. The efficiency of the thorium fuel cycle, should greatly reduce the cost of handling post-reactor fission products, since there would be far less "waste" to handle. This in turn would mean fewer facilities would be needed to handle "spent" fuel.

Innovative siting schemes, such as underground siting, should be examined.

Thirdly, new schemes of reactor construction should be examined. In order to quickly produce the number of reactors needed, Reactors should be mass produced on assembly lines. At the moment reactor manufacturers like Westinghouse are moving toward mass productions of reactor modules, with local assembly. There is no reason why whole reactors cannot be mass produced on assembly lines.

Mass production would greatly shorten production time will decreasing parts and assembly costs. Labor cost would be far better under control. Sites can be prepared while reactors are built in factories. Mass production would greatly decrease the time required to build reactors, from the 5 years plus, required by current reactor building techniques, to a matter of months. This in turn would significantly lower interest on investments that are not bring a return, a significant cost problem for current reactor building.

Of course, the transportation of very large reactors is a problem, but some generation 4 reactor concepts can produce power very efficiently from modest size reactors. Small reactors can easily be transported by ship, barge, railroad, and perhaps even truck. There are advantages to the use of small reactors. Power production does not have to be centralized, and this makes load following easy. Mass production could lower costs far more than economies of scale.

At any rate these are some ideas that could be explored. The time for business as usual and old technology is over. We need to start thinking in terms of the steps we can take to bring energy solutions. If I had the same goals as the current nuclear Industry, I would argue, just build reactors and leave it at that. The problems of the cold war nuclear technology that the current nuclear industry relies on, requires not that we abandon nuclear technology, but that we improve it. I have pointed to some possible improvements. Lets start thinking about how practical they are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you see zombies will come in 2012 i know it and i have read books on it and radiation causes zombies to kill you when come close to by radiation k


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