Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir introduce iquid fuel reactors:APS Physics | FPS | Liquid Fuel Nuclear Reactors
The 2009 update of MIT’s Future of Nuclear Power shows that the capital cost of new coal plants is $2.30/watt, compared to LWRs at $4/watt. The median of five cost studies of large molten salt reactors from 1962 to 2002 is $1.98/watt, in 2009 dollars. Costs for scaled-down 100 MW reactors can be similarly low for a number of reasons, six of which we summarize briefly:
Pressure. The LFTR operates at atmospheric pressure, obviating the need for a large containment dome. At atmospheric pressure there is no danger of an explosion.
Safety. Rather than creating safety with multiple defense-in-depth systems, LFTR’s intrinsic safety keeps such costs low. A molten salt reactor cannot melt down because the normal operating state of the core is already molten. The salts are solid at room temperature, so if a reactor vessel, pump, or pipe ruptured they would spill out and solidify. If the temperature rises, stability is intrinsic due to salt expansion. In an emergency an actively cooled solid plug of salt in a drain pipe melts and the fuel flows to a critically safe dump tank. The Oak Ridge MSRE researchers turned the reactor off this way on weekends.
Heat. The high heat capacity of molten salt exceeds that of the water in PWRs or liquid sodium in fast reactors, allowing compact geometries and heat transfer loops utilizing high-nickel metals.
Energy conversion efficiency. High temperatures enable 45% efficient thermal/electrical power conversion using a closed-cycle turbine, compared to 33% typical of existing power plants using traditional Rankine steam cycles. Cooling requirements are nearly halved, reducing costs and making air-cooled LFTRs practical where water is scarce.
Mass production. Commercialization of technology lowers costs as the number of units produced increases due to improvements in labor efficiency, materials, manufacturing technology, and quality. Doubling the number of units produced reduces cost by a percentage termed the learning ratio, which is often about 20%. In The Economic Future of Nuclear Power, University of Chicago economists estimate it at 10% for nuclear power reactors. Reactors of 100 MW size could be factory-produced daily in the way that Boeing Aircraft produces one airplane per day. At a learning ratio of 10%, costs drop 65% in three years.