Saturday, September 20, 2008

The LFTR Answers RMI's Objections to Nuclear Power

The Rocky Mountain Institute has identified a number of problems with the system of providing nuclear power through the use of Light Water Reactors. I agree in whole or in part with their assessment of LWRs. However, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor brilliantly all of the problems that the RMI points to. The RMI states:
It's too expensive. Nuclear power has proved much more costly than projected — and more to the point, more costly than most other ways of generating or saving electricity. If utilities and governments are serious about markets, rather than propping up pet technologies at the expense of ratepayers, they should pursue the best buys first.
Not only are LWRs but also renewable generating facilities are extremely expensive. The LFTR creates multiple potentials for cost breakthroughs:

1. Factory construction of small reactors, rather than onsite construction of large reactors.

2. Innovative approaches to reactor siting including reuse of old power plant sites, underground reactor placement, and underwater reactor placement.

3. Labor savings in reactor manufacture and operation.

4. Decreased interest carrying cost by greatly shortening manufacturing time.

5. Decreased facility building requirements.

6. An innovative approach to nuclear fuel that eliminates fuel enrichment and fabrication costs.

7. Eliminating the need for 95% of nuclear waste storage facilities.

8. Low cost inherent and passive reactor safety features, that rely on the laws of nature prevent
safety problems, rather than expensive engineered safety work around for safety issues.  

The RMI states:
Nuclear power plants are not only expensive, they're also financially extremely risky because of their long lead times, cost overruns, and open-ended liabilities.
By building reactors in factories, and taking advantage of the many cost lowering features of the LFTR, the financial risks associated with the construction of nuclear power plants can be avoided.  Factory built LFTR can be delivered, set up and be running within a few months of the initial order. Factory production methods assure price. The order price is the price electrical utilities will pay. Because of the inherent and passive safety features LFTR, the threat of nuclear accidents will no longer have the potential to create large open-ended liabilities.

The RMI states:
Contrary to an argument nuclear apologists have recently taken to making, nuclear power isn't a good way to curb climate change. True, nukes don't produce carbon dioxide — but the power they produce is so expensive that the same money invested in efficiency or even natural-gas-fired power plants would offset much more climate change.
The LFTR will dramatically lower not only nuclear construction costs, but cost less to build than renewable electrical generating facilities with similar 24 hour a day electrical generating capacities. Thus the LFTR will be the lowest cost path to reduction of CO2 emissions, and and thus to fighting climate change.

The RMI states:
And of course nuclear power poses significant problems of radioactive waste disposal and the proliferation of potential nuclear weapons material. (However, RMI tends to stress the economic arguments foremost because they carry more weight with decision-makers.)
By its efficient use of thorium based nuclear fuel, the LFTR will greatly reduce the volume of reactor product. The problem of long lived, radioactive transuranium elements in spent fuels is eliminated. The small amount of transuranium elements produced by LFTRs can be extracted from fuel and reused as nuclear fuel in special reactors. The IAEA has designated the LFTR as a proliferation resistant technology. Unlike traditional reactors, the LFTR does not produce "nuclear waste" or "spent fuel". All of the fission products from LFTRs are usable in a a variety of settings, and some materials are extremely valuable. The liquid nature of LFTR fuel makes the recovery of fission products possible. Many fission products from the thorium fuel cycle lose their radioactivity quickly, and become stable. They can be used almost immediately, while other fission products may remain radioactive longer, and may be stored until they are safe to use. Finally long term radiation emitters can be use in medicine, industry, food preservation, sanitation, and for other purposes. Thus reactor fission products are a resource to be used, and by efficiently using them the so called problem of "nuclear waste" will be eliminated.


David Walters said...

You might add that turbine expense would go down since smaller, lighter Brayton cycle turbines could be used in place of the bigger, Rankine cycle turbines AND because of this, less cooling water, smaller circulating water pumps running at lower power. Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

I would have thought the economic argument against conventional PWRs to be false anyway. I appreciate that LFTR will have the advantages referred to, but I doubt they,re needed to vanquish the RMI economic case.

George Carty said...

Might regulators demand a secondary steam circuit though for safety reasons? (Ie, to prevent a discharge of radioactive reactor coolant in the event of an uncontained turbine failure.)

Charles Barton said...

George the LFTR dies not use steam to produce power. LFTRs will have energancy secondary cooling systems. Heat from the reactor fkiws through two heat exchange systems, in ortder to isolate generators form radioactive materials. Heat will automatically be dumped from the reactor in the event of turbine failure.

George Carty said...

OK, so the LFTR does use primary and secondary fluid loops, even though it is a Brayton-cycle machine.

That's what I wanted to know - thanks...


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