Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Terrestial Energy's new toy.

Among the dreamers who created the Molten Salt Reactor Movement is David LeBlanc, a Canadian physicist, has been quite conspicous.  David has never been wed to the thorium model, although he is willing to use thorium both in breeders and converters.    Since I was aware of the potential flexability of MSRs, I was interested in the evolution of David's reactor ideas.  In addition to being creative, he was a good communicator, who focused on making his ideas practical, as the first step for making them a reality.  The second step was to create Terrestial Energy, Inc.  Next he identified some customers, namely the Alberta Sand Tar Industry.  With a customer in mind, he could conceptualize a reactor that would service the customer at low cost.  While he was doing this, he could begin to rase money, and come up with a management team, because the goal of Terrestial Energy, in not just designing reactors, but mass producing them them, and selling them at an astonishingly low cost.  David's first reactor, The Integral Molten Salt Reactor could be built and soldby the thousands every year.  Although the IMSR is intended to be a converter rather than a breeder, it would appear that it is designed to take advantage of the superior breeding properties of thorium in the thermal spectrum.   The IMSR is a Denatured Molten Salt Reactor, so David is with his first Reactor. just as wedded to the use of thorium as is Kirk Sorensen.  But Terrestial Energy just does not mention thorium in its advertisement.  That is because avid uses U-238 as an anti-proliferation tool.      

I have previously offered accounts of Dr LeBlanc's thinking about DMSRs here, and here.  Of course, Dr. LeBlanc has spoken for himself on numerous occasions

David's IMSR is initially Fueled by a U-235, U-238, Pu, Th-232, U-233 mix, that is not processed during the life of the core, and possibly during the life of the reactor.  Most core actinides are thorium, with u-238, being the second most common.  The core is designed to be replaced every 7 years.  The 7 year life span is determined by the core life of graphite under neutron bombardment.  

The initial IMSR is Prototype size, but at 64 MWth, and 25e MW output, The little IMSR can find a number of uses, including industrial heat, Electrical output for isolated communities, and motive power for ships.  Even 10% of the potential market would be a very hansom market.  Commercial shipping by shipping barges and ships is a huge and growing market.  Replacing fossil fuels in ship and tugboat propultion with low cost nuclear power would be very attractive to everyone but the oil industry.

The tiny IMSR can potentially find a home in towns and cities all over the globe, provided that its safety is understood, and the unlikelihood  that it can be used as a tool to create nuclear weapons is accepted.  The IMSR, is potentially highly safe, and Terrestial Energy intends to build and sell them at a very low cost.  Thus, the IMSR is potentially a game changer for providing electricityto poor and isolated communities all over the world.  

The IMSR can be started with Low Enriched Uranium, and indeed 
that was the original formula, but Plutonium from weapons, or from "Nuclear waste" can be used in the IMSR start charge.  That means that far from being a nuclear proliferation tool, the IMSR could serve the purpose of nuclear disarmiment, or to solve the so called "Nuclear waste problem."

The Tiny 25 MWe IMSR, is probably just the first phase of the Terrestal Energy development program.  Once the market for small IMSRs would be poor and more isolated communitie all over the earth, that are not connected to a grid.  Power for these communities is often provided by Diesal generators, or even worse by renewables.  The Diesals are expensive, and the renewables are unreliable.  

The potentially large market for 25 MWe reactors, would still not be the sort of game changer we need to fight Increasing CO2 emissions, and as the German experience demonstrates, Renewables in the absence of nuclear power are not the path to lower GHG emissions.  Thus unless the DMSR is built in a size that is large enough, and in numbers that are large enough, it cannot serve as a useful CO2 abatement tool.  Fortunately the IMSR formula still holds.  A 225 MWth, 100  MWe IMSR could be easily manufactured in a factory, at a very low cost.  We could either replace the core every 3 years or so, if the airm is to generate base load electricith at a very low cost, or replace core carbon, while leaving core metalic structures in tact.  Output efficiency could be enhanced, and using the sort of co-generation systems used by some natural gas fired power plants, IMSR generation efficiency can approach 70%or at least 150 MWe given highly heat tolerant materials.   

If the resulting product is truck or at least train transportable, the consequences could be huge.  Low cost 100MW to 150 MW power units that posses all the safety, efficiency and reliability advantages of MSRs are going to be the game changer, the black swan, the thorium bullet. 


Andrew Jaremko said...

Charles - thanks for this post and your comments on other blogs and sites. I absolutely agree that Terrestrial Energy has a great reactor and great plans. If any dyed-in-the-wool antinuclears have really taken notice, they should be trumpeting the fearsome prospect of a million nuclear in the world reactors by 2050! While we, of course, should be praising the same prospect.

In his presentation to the Economics Club of Canada, Hugh MacDiarmid says that TE is working with industry partners. I think that oil industry executives know that by using nuclear energy to power hydrocarbon extraction and processing, they can deliver more product to market than if they burned hydrocarbons to do so. The EROEI (energy returned over energy invested) might not improve, but the net hydrocarbon does. I would argue that it's a way of packaging nuclear energy that starts getting it into the mainstream of the fuels business. Whichever hydrocarbon company gets the point first will gain competitive advantage.

I have great expectations of Terrestrial Energy.

Martin Burkle said...

Terrestrial Energy has rejected the use on thorium as being like "wet fuel". Here are quotes from Terrestrial's web site.
"Other MSR development programs, including the extensive original U.S. program from the 1950s to 1970s, are generally focused on two key objectives: i) to use thorium-based fuels, and; ii) to “breed” fuel in an MSR-Breeder reactor. Terrestrial Energy intentionally avoids these two objectives, and their additional technical and regulatory complexities, for the following reasons. Thorium is not currently licensed as a fuel . Liquid thorium fuels are the nuclear fuel equivalent of wet wood. Wet wood cannot be lit with a match; it requires a large torch. That large torch must come in the form of, for example, highly enriched uranium (HEU). Such a torch has no regulatory precedent in civilian nuclear power. Furthermore, the use of proposed thorium fuel with HEU additive leads to valid criticisms of the proposed reactor’s proliferation and commercial credentials. The thorium fuel cycle would require its own involved regulatory process to become licensed for use on a wide commercial basis. The liquid uranium fuel of an IMSR can be lit easily, it is dry tinder. - See more at: http://terrestrialenergy.com/imsr-technology/#sthash.tNRNJbCi.dpuf"

Marcelo Pacheco said...

There are a few issues with Th-232 in the IMSR. Nothing insurmountable, but adds to the immediate risks and R&D costs. Terrestrial is about actually getting a usable product to the market instead of hoping for a huge R&D budget before you are shipping something.
If the IMSR succeeds (I hope and expect it will) we'll get a Thorium breeder by 2030, either by Terrestrial itself or another startup which will be able to capitalize on Terrestrial showing MSRs are the replacement for water cooled / solid fuel nukes.


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