Thursday, October 8, 2009

Letters to Jessee 2: The coal yard

Dear Jesse, One of the reasons why I would like a dialogue with you is to increase awareness of the creative thinking among nuclear supporter. There is actually a sort of peer review process among nuclear supporters. Newly proposed ideas usually are subjected to critical discussion on the Energy from Thorium Discussion forum. Many disquisition participants are engineers and scientists, who are nuclear literate, and are both intelligent and competent. Bad ideas get ferreted out. These discussions are making important contributions to the process of charting our future energy design, and deserve attention from anyone who wishes to be known as an energy expert.

One of the more original ideas to have emerged from the community of nuclear supporters is Jim Holm's idea of recycling coal fired power plants to sites for the installation of small generation IV reactors. I thought that Jim Holm's idea of recycling coal fired power plants by converting them into nuclear power plants was crazy the first time I encountered it. I now think it is a terrific idea.

First they offer grid access. In a massive deployment of nuclear power in the United States, Grid hook up will definitely be a problem. By accessing the grid from existing power sites,
grid access costs can be kept to a minimum. Several small reactors, whose combined generation capacity generation capacity could be closely matched to the output of the previous coal fired station.

A second advantage would be the access to water and a cooling system. Since reactors are going to be located on rivers and require both cooling towers and water use permits, the reuse of these facilities would save a considerable amount of money. The reactor core would, of course be factory produced and could be transported to the power plant site by train. truck or barge. Several small reactors could be clustered and matched to the old coal plants rasted output. This would facilitate using the existing frid hook up.

The land for the facility might come at no cost. Or if ownership of the land were transferred, it could be with minimal problem's.

Some existing plant structures might be reusable. A recycled turbine hall, now used for closed cycle gas turbines, could offer some more construction savings. Parking lots can be reused. Coal yards offer security and radiation protection perimeters. Reactors could be located either in existing buildings, with added containment features, in separate containment structures, or in underground chambers. Under ground siting might lower Generation IV reactor sit costs, while actually enhancing safety and security.

If the reuse of 100 coal fired power plants produced an average of $50 million in construction savings, the total savings would amount to $5 billion. This would be a savings from efficient reuse of resources.

The sites of natural gas turbine generators could also be reused as small reactor sites, with at least some of the same advantages that would be provided by the reuse of coal sites. Considering the large number of coal fired generation facilities world wide, the reuse of coal fired plants for nuclear deployment might well be a standard feature of any large scale plan.


Richard said...

While I like the idea, it won't work, and here is why.

Today it is economic (cheaper than wind and solar) to replace coal plants with all new coal pants using "Coal Gasification Combine Cycle" technology. The result is almost elimination of most of the emission and a reduction in Co2 of almost 40%.

So why is this not happening? It is because people don't want to make the big capital investment (the same investment would be involved in any nuclear plant), and risk that a 40% Co2 improvement is not good enough to keep the pant running long-term. In other wards the capital cost of natural gas is much cheaper and less risky in the short-term.

I would argue that is would be better to plan to use nuclear as part of a long-term plan. Build all new plants using the newest and best of technology throughout the plant and completely replace the aging coal plants, not upgrading them.

Charles Barton said...

Actually Richard, Generation IV nuclear would be cheaper than conventional coal. Coal Gasification combined cycle would not be competitive. Anyway it is not going to happen. Be fore 2020 the goal of a world wide reduction of CO2 emissions is going to be accepted. Any technology that emits CO2 is going to be heavily taxed. The future of coal is as a chemical industry raw material, not as a heat source.

Richard said...


I would agree about the potential for the Gen IV. I feel that the technology for Gen 3.5 is already as cheap as coal(at least in China), depending on the regulation. The nuclear plants can safely be built in 3.5 years. But if the regulator adds in 10 years of delays, then they will be very expensive.

The secret to Gen IV will be designing them using techniques like in factory manufacturing to prevent the regulator from delaying construction.

I feel the design difficulty will come not on technical needs for the reactors, but on understanding the regulator and designing around the bureaucracy.

Richard Batty

Charles Barton said...

Richard, It would be unacceptable for the nuclear regulatory process to impeed the timely development of advanced nuclear technology. Given the serious consequences of allowing this to happen, I very much doubt that the politicians will allow a regulatory road block to develop. Yoo much is at stake.

Atomic Khan said...

I also believe that converting existing coal fired power plants is a terrific idea. Any engineer familiar with power plant infrastructure can relate to the idea. In this idea only steam generating section of the power plant is replaced with high temperature reactor. All other expensive equipment, turbines, generators, switch gear, transformers, power lines, water treatment equipment etc.,is usable in conjunction with high temperature nuclear reactor. The best part is in possibility to convert to nuclear power while power plant is down for only very short time when steam lines are reconnected to nuclear steam generators and superheaters. To simplify the conversion and to maintain the steam conditions to existing coal fired power plant, it would be best to fire superheaters and reheaters with natural gas or coal itself. In this case simple reactors could be used and the scheme would satisfy fossil fuel lobby as well as nuclear agenda. Such plants would still generate major portion of power from nuclear heat and it would be the easiest transition to all nuclear plants in the future. This idea is highly executable in short frame of time with integration of existing equipment.

David Walters said...

Quite a while ago I wrote this:

It's a proposal on how the state of Missouri could phase out coal by going nuclear and explains, similarly to Charles answer, about the robust use of "Balance of Plant" equipment which includes extensive site preparation, size, grid access, river-rail-road access for components, cooling facilities and access, etc. The savings, *even* for Generation III reactors would be immense.

Jesse Jenkins said...

Charles, this is a very interesting idea. You speak here about using Gen IV reactors. But Gen IV technologies are quite a ways off, are they not? Perhaps decades. Would this be possible with modifications Gen III or III+ reactor designs? Or is that impossible for some engineering reason? And if Gen IV is a must, then what is the earliest date you could see this kind of conversion of coal plants to nuclear plants begin? Thanks,

Charles Barton said...

Jessee, Generation IV reactors are here and now. The Indians plan to have a commercial generation IV prototype reactor up and running and will be completing 4 more within the next decade. A fast track program would give th United States a IFR within 5 years. (I am no great fan of FBRs, but things that you do nothing to acomplish seem to be a long way off.) Production models of LFTRs could be rolling out of a factory within a decade, if we make itr our national priority to make it happen.


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