Thursday, May 26, 2011

Third Thorium Energy Alliance marks rapid progress toward fulfillment of dreams

My health, although still not as good as I would like has been improving since my hospitalization last December. I am, however, not in good enough health to travel. This is unfortunate because I would very much have liked to attend the Third Thorium Energy AllianceConference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Energy from Thorium has a brief account of the Conference in Energy from Thorium. In addition the Thorium Energy Alliance has posted Power Point Presentations from the Conference on its web page. Judging from the presentations it is probably safe to say that Molten Salt Reactor technology has entered the age of entrepreneurs.

Presentations by Kirk Sorensen, DavidLe Blanc and Charles S Holden indicated that they were either currently involved in entrepreneurial activities or were seeking entrepreneurial opportunities. Kirk has left Teledyne Brown to found a company, Flibe Energy, the purpose of Flibe is to product LFTRs and perhaps uranium fueled MSRs. The relationship between Teledyne Brown and Flibe is not clear, but the money to pay Kirk's salary has to come from somewhere. The Flibe prospectus indicates that the company founders envisage going after such markets as isolated communities, and medical isotopes, as well as stable fission product sales.

Charles "Rusty" Holden probably wants to go after some of the Same Markets Kirk is targeting. Holden's company, Thorenco LLC, is planning to build a 40 MW MSR. The reactor is designed to produce about 15 MWe at maximum. Holden intends to come out of the starting gate with a full LFTR. The reactor is a pool type reactor which involves a large pool of molten coolant salts acting as a thermal sink. I am not a big fan of pool type reactors, although they are safe. This is safety at a cost. The coolant pool will contain 93,200 Liters of coolant salt which will weigh 450 tons. The function of the pool is far from clear since the reactor design includes a dump tank.

The reactor core contains no graphite, Moderation will be by Beryllium in the form of BeF2 in the salts. This is a two fluid reactor with blanket salts doubling as coolants. The core structure uses metal (no doubt Hastelloy N) tubing. With the tubes containing fuel salts surrounded by outer tubes containing coolant salts. Since there is no core core graphite, neutron speed will be relatively bast, likely falling in the Epithermal range. The core is surrounded by a thorium reflector, neutron absorption in the reflector converts some thorium into U-233. The reactor will be a converter, and will require 1600 kilograms of U-233 fissile load, which is an enormous amount given the modest amount of U-233 14 kgs per year, which the reactor will burn,

At this point I will stop, and pronounce Holden's reactor DOA. Too much material goes into it, and too little electricity will come out. Fundamental questions are left unanswered, for example startup. 1600 kgs of U-233 is probably more U-233 than exists in the whole world right now. Where is the U-233 going to come from? There are quite a few more problems and questions. As David LeBlanc noted in his Conference talk, "Softer Spectrum" means "much smaller fissile start up." David is still on the outside looking for an opportunity. In his Conference talk, David noted,
␣ Corporate interest will always be difficult to attract
␣ No lucrative fuel fabrication contracts
␣ Min 15 year return on investment a tough sell to shareholders (no matter how big the return may be)
␣ Existing nuclear players have their choices in place
Money is still the hard part, at least for now. Despite this enormous progress is being made by LFTR/MSR advocates. A month ago, Kirk Sorensen marked the fifth anniversary of Energy from Thorium. At that time a handful of people knew what thorium was. Even fewer knew about Molten Salt Reactors. Kirk set out to educate people using social media tools, and others followed his lead. What Kirk has managed to do is to start a bottom up social movement.

Where are we headed? Japanese Researcher Takashi Kamei of Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan offered some answers in the wake of the great Japanese earthquake-tsunami of 2011, not to mention the crisis related to Fukushima reactors. Takashi pictures MSRs beginning a rapid increase around 2025and with the number of LFTRs growing more slowly before 2050. He also suggests a growing number of LFTRs after 2035. Takashi estimates a total MSR output of 258 GWe to 317 GWe by 2050. My view is that much more is possible. The future will belong to the dreamers.


charlesH said...


I would suggest we have seen two "game changers" in the last few months.

a) China's decision to make LFTR development a national priority,

b) The US military's invitation (TEA3 talk) to license non traditional reactor technology (outside of the NRC).

Both of these get around the US NRC which is the dominate roadblock to LFTR deployment. The principle reason private capital is hard to come by is the uncertainty associated with NRC approval.

Joel Riddle said...

charlesH, Are you Charles Holden? If so, did Mr. Barton correctly characterize your reactor design?

Charles B.,
I think you may have missed a small section on David LeBlanc's presentation, which stood out brightly to me. On slide 8, he states that he has "gone dark" since October 2010, "sorry no hints" and "two major new design directions". This makes me suspect that he is beyond the point of being "still on the outside looking for an opportunity". Kirk Sorensen confirmed in a comment to a posting on EfT that LeBlanc is NOT currently affiliated with the FLiBe effort.

charlesH said...

charlesH is not charles holden

Charles Barton said...

Joel, I did not miss David's dark statement, but i don't have a clue what it means.

Charles Barton said...

Charles H, most of us know that.

Joel Riddle said...

Charles B,

I believe what he means is that he is presently involved with some entity, working on an MSR of some form, that has yet to be publically disclosed. This is a positive tidbit, in my opinion, as long as David LeBlanc's entity and FLiBe don't hinder the other's ability to attract adequate funding.

Hopefully they won't separately be solving the same remaining issues in the way of LFTR commercialization along parallel paths.

kacobeelaerts said...

Charles; what's your opinion on Japans Mini-Fuji initiative of Dr. Kazuo Furukawa? How realistic is their approach?

Karel Beelaerts
the Netherlands

Charles Barton said...

Karel, I am wondering if they can produce a Mini-FUJI prototype for no more that $300,000,000. Depending on its cost, the Mini-FUJI could power sea going ships, and barge tugboats.

Nathan2go said...

Fascinating news on Flibe Energy.

I hope they will follow a two step strategy: Start with a small (100MW or so) salt cooled pebble bed reactor (e.g. Peterson's PB-AHTR), then build a larger breakeven breeding LFTR.

Utilities will like the PB-AHTR, because it post-pones the need for a societal decision on reprocessing vs. direct waste disposal, and in fact, does not take sides on the issue. It also provides a spent fuel form that is great for very long term interim (indefinite) storage or transportation.

When coupled with an optional thermal energy storage add-on, it's great for European countries that want to transition to renewable energy. Probably no one would ever buy this option, but offering it could have great political value (like a CO2-capture-ready coal plant).

Investors will like a two step strategy, since it gives them a long term vision, and an easier initial product.


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