Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The cost savings potential of LFTR technology

In a previous essay, I noted that to areas on which nuclear cost lowering efforts could be focused. These include reactor complexity and labor costs. I suggested that generation IV technology reactor held promise for cost lowering in both areas, but found that Chinese Pebble Bed Reactors did not offer significant cost benefits when compared to the Chinese Light Water Reactors.

I wish to focus in this essay on the cost lowering potential of another Generation IV Reactor the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor or as it is also called the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

I have chose to look closely at the LFTR because it is arguably the most promising of all nuclear technologies in terms of scalability, rapid deployment, safety, nuclear waste management, "green" qualities, and sustainability. The LFTR has outstanding safety features. It can convert thorium into nuclear fuel with 98% efficiency. The thorium fuel cycle is much cleaner that the uranium fuel cycle in terms of undesirable nuclear byproducts, and long term radiation dangers. In the LFTR, thorium produces about 0.1% of the volume of long term nuclear waste produced by the Light Water Reactor The LFTR designers can take advantage of the laws of nature to give the LFTR very desirable safety features. Fuel can be removed and replaced in the LFTR without interrupting its operations. The LFTR extremely scalable. LFTRs can be designed and built to produce anywhere between 5 MWe and 5 GWe. LFTRs offer the possibility of manufacturer in large number over a short period of time. LFTRs design can conform to the principles of green engineering without compromising efficiency. LFTR thorium based fuel supply is sustainable with enough thorium to provide energy for millions of years potentially available.

During the 1940's Nobel Prize wining physicist Eugene Wigner identified thorium fueled liquid core reactors as offering the greatest potential for low cost long term replacement of coal as an ebergy source. An Oak Ridge chemist Raymond C. Bryant first noted that the the Molten Salt Reactor had excellent potential as a thorium cycle reactor. The Molten Salt reactor was invented by an Oak Ridge engineer Ed Bettis in in 1948 and underwent extensive research and development in Oak Ridge between 1950 and 1976.

Two MSR prototypes were built in Oak Ridge, and the design of an electricity producing advanced thorium fuel cycle MSR was underway in Oak Ridge, when Washington ordered the termination of MSR research Nixon era AEC political infighting and budget cuts were behind the decision, but Oak Ridge scientists remained convinced of the LFTRs unique promise.

I am familiar with the MSR because my father, C.J. Barton, Sr., was involved in a great deal of the pioneering chemistry research on what is often called the chemist's reactor.

There are several potential variations of the MSR/LFTR design. All are far simpler than the LWRs. All are far lighter and far more compact. Because of its simplicity, light weight, and compact design, LFTRs that can produce useful amount of power can be manufactured on factory assembly lines and transported by truck, rail or barge to power plant locations where they can be rapidly put into operation.

The potential for labor saving with the LFTR design is very significant. Light water reactor require between 10 million and 20 million hours of labor to manufacture. Through use of labor saving technology and the potential for LFTR design simplicity is is conceivable that LFTRs can be produced with no more than 10% of the labor input of LWRs. The LFTR has the potential to create a revolutionary breakthrough in energy prices and would allow the United States to produce electricity at a cost that would be competitive with electricity produced by low cost Chinese and Indian Reactors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Charles for a succinct statement highlighting the cost saving potential of the LFTR. Your historical documentation lends much credibility to the case. You really need to get your case heard at the highest levels of government. Certainly LFTR is not a mature energy source and as such research for continued R&D deserves support from public funding. Implementation should qualify for government backed loan guarantees. Strong editorial pieces like this one should be useful in attracting attention to this promising technology. The energy bill before congress should find room to expand generation four technology. Thanks again. John Tjostem


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