Monday, July 13, 2009

The LFTR, How much will it cost?

I have spent a good deal of time and energy during the last couple of years, trying to find support for my conviction that the LFTR represents the most promising route to low cost carbon energy. ORNL, which undoubtedly employed many individuals who possessed far greater skills than I possess, reported some estimates of development and reactor construction costs. ORNL made several estimates of developmental costs for thorium molten salt reactors, and I believe that the last one translated into 2008 dollars came to somewhere close to $2.5 billion. In 1972, the AEC WASH-1222 report estimated MSBR development cost to be $2 billion, or about ten billion 2009 dollars. There is no suggestion as to how the AEC arrived at this figure, and no evidence that the AEC looked at ORNL reports before coming up with the $2 billion number. Wild guess comes to mind. The development cost for the civilian light water reactor appears to have run somewhere between $5 and $10 billion 2009 dollars. I suggested that the development of the Airbus 380 airliner was a task of comparable complexity to the development of a 400 MW unmoderated LFTRs that would be portable in several truck loads. The development of the A-380 cost about $13 billion. Finally the United States Government has invested somewhere close to $25 Billion 2009 dollars in the development of a Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor, with a conspicuous lack of success to date.

It does not appear that LFTR development will be anywhere as costly as LMFBR development has been. The technical challenges are far less daunting, and the consequences of an improbable LFTR accident would be far less serious. Political interest have not yet gathered to push LFTR development in ways that contradict good technological judgment. A good guess would be that LFTR development would cost between $5 and $10 billion 2009 dollars., or less than A-380 development costs. If this is the case, then the LFTR would be quite a bargain.

Nor would the LFTR be that expensive to produce. I have attempted updating old ORNL cost estimates for various LFTR designs. This would lead to an estimate that a MW of LFTR generating capacity would cost about half of what the equivalent LWR generating capacity would cost. Given numerous and significant potential savings that I have pointed out in Nuclear Green, LFTR costs might be lowered to as little as 25% of the capital costs for LWRs. Thus levelized LFTR costs might run as low as 25. No doubt far more work is needed before such a figure could be considered definitive.


donb said...

Seems to me the best way forward is private industry bringing the LFTR into the market. Government needs to provide expedited regulatory review. An incentive from government of perhaps several billion dollars spread over the first 10 LFTRs built might be in line.

As usual, the devil is in the details. The goal is to help drive the LFTR into the market without having the participants just gaming the reward system. Perhaps there should be several incentive packages for small, medium, and large reactors. And there should be rewards for the first and second place designs in each size category.

David Walters said...

Charles, one thing you might do is to cost out the price of a generator. It's about the only thing common to all thermal units: the generators are always the same.

Generators come in lots of sizes, obviously but the most common are 50MW, 100MW, 172MW, 350MW and then on up all the way to 1800MW. It might be good to start with one component and work on up...and out.


Alex P. said...

Just curious,
once that the tecnology is well understood/developed, how much time do you estimate it takes to build a a 400 MW unmoderated LFTR ?

I think construction time per module and time-to-market is a crucial point, today

Charles Barton said...

Alex P. I suspect that mass produced 400 MW LFTRs would take no longer to build that mass produced 100 MW LFTRs. My guess is that with a system set up fro mass production, from the signing of the contract, to the reactor going critical could be acomplished in as little as 3 months. That would be a very attractive goal, unless it proves impossible in practice.

Alex P. said...

If so, it's very impressive.

Do you think that time estimate include the miniaturized chemical reprocessing plant?

Charles Barton said...

I think that mass produced chemical processors may not be expensive. The big cost would be the design and the production facility.

Robert Hargraves said...

A GE 7171EF natural gas turbine generator for 126 MW costs $29 million or $0.228/watt. Our LFTR cost objective is $2/watt. It's been said that half the cost of a nuclear power plant is the power conversion system [turbine].
Would a He, N, or CO2 turbine cost much more? In mass production??!!


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