Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Chinese cut the energy Gordian knot

Chinese LFTR Development: Workforce and Cost
The Chinese have recently anounced plans to begin building Thorium Breeding Molten Salt Reactors in 10 years.  The reason for this decision is the need to replace smog belching coal fired power plants that emit air pollutants that kill hundreds of thousands of Chinese, and emit huge amounts of climate 

This plan is very ambitious.  It lies at the heart of chinese plans to eliminate coal as a source of the energy that will power future Chinese society.

According to American experts, the Chinese ten year plan would be impossible.  But the Experts simply assume a business as usual, while the Chinese leadership facing health and climate catastrophe head on have decided to fix their problems using methods that the United States was once very good at.setting up big projects designed to produce large amounts of energy.  The largest such project was the three Gorges Dam.  Compared the Chinese Molten Salt Thorium Breeder. 

The original Chinese plan involved 125 to 150 scientists with a support staff of 750  skilled workers working for 25 years to develop  their TMSR.  How did the Chinese know this? Probably because they were using ORNL plans,  A detailed ORNL Nolten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR) development plan: ORNL-5018, Program Plan for the Development of Molten-Salt reede Reactors. http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/ORNL-5018.pdf

The ORNL Plan was for a long term Development (40 years) effort to be carirf out by a limited scientific and technical staff. The Chinese originally cut the time they anticipated that the requited to development time could be cut to 25 years by increasing the projects staff.  This was not a huge increase by ORNL standards, and indeed the Molten Salt Reactor Experimentb may have approached the 125 to 150 scientists   

It long ago occurred to me that by increasing the number of scientists, engineers and skilled laborers committed to a MSR project, less time would be required to complete the development of a reactor like the LFTR.  (The TMSR is the same thing as a LFTR.)  

The Chinese now want the TMSR operational in 10 years.  In order to do so, they must up their labor force to include perhaps as many as 400 PhD level scientists, An additional staff of upwards of 2000 staff members.  This is not a huge number of people.  The ORNL staff numbered something about 5200 during the 1960’s, and even in the 1970’s, it the ORNL staff numbered around 3600.  During the period of ORNL decline, it had been largely forced out of the reactor business.  Whole devisions, for example the reactor chemistry division, were shut down, but not all of the lost positions involved reactor research and development.  And some reactor scientists, one example being ny father, remained at ORNL.  My father, spent the last years of his career, researching the transport of radioactive gas by the natural gas system, and other environmental issues related to radiation safety.

At any rate, The trade off between staff size and project time is undeniable.  The Manhatten Project moved threw a lot of people including some of the best scientists in the world, at the development of nuclear weapons.  The accomplishments over a three year span were enormous, much bigger than the development of the TMSR alone.  Fewer scientists and staff members would be required than currently employed by ORNL.  Thus the TMSR R and D project should be manageable.  A far larger staff was required by the Chinese than the Three Gorges Dam.  If motor labor is required to finish the project within 10 years, the Chinese will find it.  
The Costs will not be huge either.   ORNL currently has a staff of 4400, with a budget of $1.25 billion.  A 10 year LFTR project at ORNL would come in at less than $10 billion.  In China, i9t will cost far less, probably some where between two to three Billion Dollars for Chinese LFTR Research and Development.  

Would such a project be possible in the United States?  It certainly would be a worthwhile undertaking for the government, and the decision to develop the LFTR should be a slam dunk for any intelligent political leadership.  But we lack intelligent leadership.  The Democrats are still listening to anti-nuclear crack pots like Ralph Nadir and Amory Lovins, while the Republicans are buying in to flat world climate change-is-a hoax theories.  The government should save us, but won’t.

That leaves us with private enterprise as our only hope, and there are certainly enough prive industries with the amount of money lying around to pay for a LFTR development project without difficulty.  Apple Currently has $150 billion in the bank.  The money is not committed for any future use.  Apple could easily hire ORNL to R and D a LFTR product for it, with chump change that it will never miss.  Molten Salt Reactors and LFTRs could potentially make Apple a lot of money.

There are plenty of other candidates that have the money, and may have stronger motives than Apple, fossil fuel related businesses, for example.  To date leaders of companies involved in the fossil fuel business have not contemplated what it would take for their companies to survive.  Eventually the public is going to take climate change seriously, and when it does the Fossil fuel industry’s lunch is going to quickly disappear.  

How much sill the Chinese LFTR project cost.  Given the original Chinese project staff of 125 tp 150 PhD’s and 700 skilled workers including perhaps a substantial number of engineers, the 10 Chinese project might require upwards of 2000 skilled workers and 400 PhDs.  The Wikipedia reports that ORNL currently employees 4400 workers.  I believe that the ORNL budget runs around $1.25 billion.  If the Chinese LFTR project were developed by ORNL over a 10 year span, it might cost $700 million per year,  with a total R and D price of some where between $5 and 10 billion.  Chinese cost would be considerably less because of lower labor costs.

Thus the Chinese 10 year LFTR project would be feasible, and not be terribly expensive.

Next: The Chinese LFTR: How the Chinese intend to use their LFTR

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Must admit I think the fossil fuel companies feel that their campaigns against coal and nuclear are working, wind and solar are a wonderful excuse to sell back-up 'clean' natural gas, and thus this 'clean' gas will be the 'Green' fuel of choice for the foreseeable future. The excesses of their well-funded environmental allies with their talk of global warming will just be ignored.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet
Get Your Free Web Ring
by Bravenet.com
Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High