Over the last 4 years, a new paradigm for nuclear power has emerged. One which involves the use of Molten Salt nuclear technology and the thorium fuel cycle. The paradigm also includes the factory production of small, relatively low cost, and rapidly built reactors. Proponents believe that this paradigm could would produce a rapidly deployable form of post carbon energy, that could potentially meet high levels of energy demand for millions of years to come. A reactor concept, called the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor in Europe, and the Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor is associated with this idea, and several potential competing paper designs will potentially embody the concept. No TMSR/LFTR design has yet to emerge as as a project, but considering the fact that 4 years ago, the number of people in the world who knew about the concept, probably numbered in the few hundreds, a great deal of progress has been made towards making Thorium dreams a reality.
A second reactor concept has emerged to potentially compete with the LFTR idea. This is the Integral Fast Reactor, an advanced reactor concept that emerged from Argonne National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory between 1970 and 1990. The sociology, and business model of IFR support is different. IFR support relies heavily on the activism of old research veterans, and a small band of insiders, while LFTR support has emerged from a diverse group of scientists, engineers, and thinkers, few of whom were directly involved in Molten Salt Reactor research, prior to their LFTR activism.
There are some significant differences between the way MSR/LFTR supporters and IFR supportors argue their case. Kirk Sorensen, early on, posted a large number of Oak Ridge National Laboratory research reports, and technical papers on line in an archive, as support for his contentions. Although a similar, and indeed even larger set of technical documents could potentially be drawn on to support their contentions, they have chosen the testimony of the old research vetrans, rather than their reports as the primary documentation of their claims.
Indeed, anyone who is curious about what some of those IFR research reports have to say, might discover to their wondermont, that reviews of those reports are more likely to appear on energy from thorium, than on pro IFR web sites like Brave New Climate.
I must say that reading the IFR research literature has given me a somewhat better oppenion of the project, and although I have noted contradictions and discrepancies between the claims of the old Argonne National Laboratory vetrans and the research reports, those contradictions are explainable, especially if the research reports are understood in their political setting. In most instances, I have concluded that the contradictions probably will be settled in favor of the vetrans claims,. But there are still a number of troubling issues which cannot be settled by attempts to resolve the reports, and the claims of the vetrans. Perhaps the most troubling IFR issue yet to be resolved, is that of cost. Marketability is a second, related and troubling issue.
While it is clear that the IFR concept offers utilities many attractive features, it is far less clear that those features would attract utility purchasers to the IFR unless the maufacture could offer reactors at attractive prices. Manufactures will not be able to do that until they have assessed how much it would cost to manufacture and set up IFRs in the field. Such cost estimates are unlikely to be realistic, unless an IFR project has access to a manufacturer with experience building large, high technology projects, and construction engineers who have experience building large construction projects. Among current small reactor projects, only Babcock & Wilcox appears to have reached the organizational stage, that would permit it to begin to understand what it might charge customers for a finished product.
I have already discussed the status of the B&W mPower reactor project, in relationship to the ARC-100, a small IFR project. I have noted that the ARC-100 lacks the mPower project's maturity. The problem here raises a significant issue about the overall viability of the IFR.
General Electric has had a long term interest in the IFR concept, and a set of GE concept reactors, the S PRISMs have been developed as projected commercial implimentations of the IFR concept. All of these concepts require further investments in research and development, presumably with major US government involvement. In contrast, the ARC-100 is based on technology that is past the research and development stage. The ARC-100 technology has already been tested in a prototype, and thus can be considered mature.
If GE and its Japanese partner Tosheba were really interested in moving forward with an IFR the ARC-100 ought to be of interest to them. First because it would serve as a groundbreaker for IFR technology. Secondly, it would provide useful manufacturing and deployment experience. Thirdly, because if the ARC-100 is successful, its success would encourage public acceptance of larger and more ambitious S PRiSM projects.
From the viewpoint of the ARC-100 project, GR-Toshiba would bring many advantages to the table, including both manufacturing and construction engineering capabilities necessary for the ARC-100 project's success. Thus if GE-Toshiba is serious about the development of IRF technology, it would appear to have a stake in the ARC-100 project. Yet no evidence has yet to emerge that GE-Tosheba has the slightest interest in participating in the ARC-100.
This raises a question about how interested GE-Toshiba really is in the IFR as a potential future commercial product. I will be blunt, if GE-Toshiba is not interested in the ARC-100 project, unless another qualified candidate that could bring the necessary skills to the table, the project is likely to fail. But if GE-Toshiba is interested in developing a commercial IFR product, then it has an interest in the ARC-100's success. Therefore a lack of GE-Toshiba interest in the ARC-100 is very bad news for the prospects of the IFR.
The most likely problem would be IFR costs. If the ARC-100 is not cost competitive with small reactors such as the B&W mPower, then investments in it will carry a high risk. And if the ARC-100 is not cost competitive, investments in the IFR are unlikely to lead to big payoffs.
MSR/LFTR backers still firmly convinced that they offer a route to significantly lower nuclear and indeed post-carbon energy costs. While we don't know enough to offer a definitive view, it is likely thatr LFTR costs wiill be substantually lower than IFR costs. This judgement is based on a number of likely factors including lower materials input, simpler reactor design, lower labor costs, the possibility that a larger percentage of the finished product can be factory as opposed to field manufactured.
If I am right about this, potential serious MSR manufacturing efforts will begin to emerge within the next five years, while projects like the ARC-100 will not get past the drawing board stage, and other IFR projects will advance even less. Of course I might be wrong.
Some neat videos
|Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
|Get Your Free Web Ring
links The Weinberg Foundation
- The Weinberg Foundation
- Deregulate the Atom
- LFTRS to Power the Planet
- Sustainable Energy Today
- ANS Nuclear Cafe
- Thorium Power
- The Nuclear Alternative
- Yes Vermont Yankee
- Nuclear Townhall
- NNadir's underground blog
- Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy
- Save The Climate (Sauvons Le Climat0
- The Energy Tribune
- Nuclear Fissionary
- Nuclear Archer
- This week in batteries (TWIB)
- Gerald E. Marsh & George S. Stanford on Nuclear Policy
- The Capacity Factor
- Canadian Energy Crisis
- Institute for Energy Research
- Energy from Thorium Documents
- Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum
- Next Big Future
- Knowledge Problems
- Brave New Climate
- Thorium electronuclear
- AREVA Blog
- The Energy Collective
- Climate Change Politics
- Reactor Physics Group Publications
- Alexander DeVolpi on nuclear-weapons nonproliferation
- New Papyrus Magazine
- Pronuclear Democrats
- American Energy Independence
- Energy Density
- SUSTAINABLE ENERGY - WITHOUT THE HOT AIR
- The Atomic Show
- Atomic Watch
- Pebble Bed Reactors
- The Thorium fuel cycle
- Simon Nisan on Nuclear Desalination
- Dr. Ralph Moir
- National Wind Watch
- Wind Energy Resource Atlas
- solar calculator
- THE NUCLEAR ENERGY OPTION by Bernard L. Cohen
- Oil Drum
- Solar Buzz
- Clean Brake (Tyler Hamilton)
- Fuel Cycle Week
- Depleted Cranium: Dr. Buzzo's Bad Science Blog
- Blogging About the Unthinkable
- Uranium Information
- Frank Munger
- The Information Bridge
- Alvin Weinberg Papers
- Left-Atomics (David Walters)
- Real CLimate
- 1 nuclear place
- World Nuclear News
- David Walters
- NIE Nuclear Notes
- Idaho Samizdat
- Atomic Insights blog
- Energy from Thorium
- A Musing Environment