Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Till and Chang on IFR Capital Costs

Brave New Climate has recently published exreacts from a book by Chuck Till and Yoon Chang on the cost of the IFR, titled "Plentiful Energy — The story of the Integral Fast Reactor."

Unfortunately this account is seriously flawed. It is doubtful that the IFR will be economically competative with LWRd any time soon. Two Indian scholars, J.Y. Suchitra, and M.V. Ramana report in The costs of power: plutonium and the economics of India's prototype fast breeder reactorthat
Breeder reactors become more competitive as the cost of fuelling heavy water reactors with uranium goes up, but only very slowly. The crossover cost is $1,375 per kilogram of uranium for our base case. At such a high cost, poorer quality ores can be economically mined. We perform an extensive sensitivity analysis to show that the broad conclusions hold even under assumptions that are far more favourable to breeder economics.
Thus the economic justification for Fast Breeders appears to be poor. The indian example also raises questions about the cost of FBRs. Till and Chang report a cost estimate for the Indian
FBR prototype that is totally out of date. The completion of the Indian prototype FBR has been repeatedly delayed and its cost have risen steadily. Its current total cost will undoubtedly over twice the cost of a PHWR. All this is bad news for the backers of the IFR, but as far as I can tell, they have swept it under the rug.

Till and Chang provide us with little information about the actual capital costs of FBRs, although such information is avaliable to those who chose to do the digging. But digging will not bring good news. Power from the Russian BN-600 fast Breeder Reactor reportedly costs twice as much as power from Russian LWRs. Till and Chang fail to tell us about cost in resl dollars and cents terms. They fail to mention the cost of a reactor grade plutonium start up charges for a Fast Reactor. This can run as high as one billion dollars for the start up charge for a 1 GW FBR.

Clearly then, Till and Change have given us inadiquate data from which to judge their case. I
say this more in sorrow than in anger because I regard both Till and Change are briliant reactor scientist, and have come to admire their work in developing the IFR. But they have not made the case for investing billions of dollars in the IFR, especially when the MSR which shares many of the desirable features of the IFR, and potentually may cost less than LWRs, while offering very advanced nuclear safety features which the IFR and the LWR cannot match, as well as the potential of burning 100% of trans-uranium nuclear waste.

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