Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Fsther's Reactor but Not my Father's Reactor Industry: 2

In 1960, my father shifted his research focuse from Molten Salt Reactors to Light Water Reactor safety,  Yet his previous research on Protactinium recovery from breeding salt fluid, was eventually to become a linch pin of a major ORNL focus, the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor.  My father ve formed a partnership with George Parker, and very much enjoyed the success that the oRNL Reactor safety researchers were having which brought them International attention.  But in 1964, Milton Shaw learned of ORNL safety Research, and pronouncing Light Water Reactors completely safe, he moved to shut ORNL nuclear safety research down.  This move brought my father back to MSR chemistry and the protactinium problem. My father's difficulties with the protactinium problem is another story.  My point her is that the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor was one of my father's reactors, although one which did not bring him much joy.

Among the current generation of nuclear revolutionaries, Kirk Sorenbsen is the person who is most closely associated with the Molten Salt Thorium Breeder.  irk dubbed it the LFTR, and indeed fir a number of years the term lFTR was virtuallyxzused to mean MSR.  And needless to say this created confusion.  I am afraid I might have added to the confusion.  For several used I did case stufies of LFTRs, that used the fact that lFTRs were MSRs, and thus would be designed and hehave in certain ways. When I began writing about uranium fuel cycle MSRs, I assumed that my readers understood things which they might not have comprehended  ewith Molten Salt Reactor for many people.

lthough By the time Kirk Sorensen set up FLiBe Energy, he did not talk much about what he was doing.  It was clear that his business was getting money from some where, but from where and what he was working on was a mystery.  Many of the people who had been involved in Energy from Thorium, shifted their interest to Uranium fueled MSRs.  This was true of David LeBlanc of Terrestrial Energy, and Lars Jorgensen and his associates at ThorCnn.  Lars does put a little Thorium in his core, so he has both uranium and thorium conversion going on.

At any rate Kirk has kept things close to his chest for several year.  There was not much more information on the FLiBe Energy Web site.  But a recent publication,., Technology Assessment   of Molten Salt Reactor Design, The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor  (LFTR) by The Electrical Power Research Institute.  However we learn that the Report was not entirely prepaired by EPRI researchers:
The following organization and individuals, under contract to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), provided major contributions to the report, performing preliminary process hazard analysis, conducting technology readiness determinations, and assisting with report preparation: Vanderbilt University 2301 Vanderbilt Place
So we have a major Report that Represents a preconceptual description of FLiBe's reactor product being contracted out and then subcontracted out to a group of researchers who make their place of business in a University  So we have a flow of cash from FLiBe and its partners to vanderguilt university and a few oeople whose relationship with that institution that is not quite defined.

The Report also tells us:

EPRI would also like to acknowledge the following organizations and individuals for their role in developing the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) system design description (SDD) that provided the technology design information required to conduct the technology assessment described in this report: Flibe Energy, Inc. (K. Sorensen) – LFTR technology holder and developer; Teledyne Brown Engineering (T. Hancock, P. Kumar, R. Dihu, J. Maddox) − systems engineer, integrator, and manufacturer of nuclear energy/power systems providing design and engineering support; Southern Company Services (J. Irvin, N. Smith, S. Baxley) – large electric power utility and nuclear plant owner/operator representing the ultimate technology customer. 
It should be noted that in My father's Nuclear Industry, such a report would come from the Reactor manufacturer who had it written in house, but when you are a One person Start up, Work that is best performed by a team of several highly trained people, is best contracted out.It is also paid for by a patron and a customer, bith of whom are willing to risk a long term play.  he play is very rational because Anyone who takes a serious look at the 35 year potential of renewables realizes that Renewables are not a good play.  The only play left is nuclear, and Light Water Reactors are Dinosaurs, who appear to be headed for extinction.  The LFTR has suddenly become a tolerable risk.  After all arn't the Chinese planning to build them?

Kirk Sorensn is swimming with sharks, and so far he is surviving.

The Report is not copy written, and because it accessing it is not exactly direct, and requires linking to an Internet page from which the Report document can be downloaded (see here) Thus I will quote extensively the Abstract.  The Executive Sumery also revealit reveals a even more about the new reactor Industry, but quoting from it would run on far beyond what most of my readers would or could tolerate.  So I propose that anyone who is interested can turn to the report, which is a very worthwhile read for those who are interested in the way the new nuclear industry is headed..

First We will look at the Abstract:
EPRI collaborated with Southern Company on an independent technology assessment of an innovative molten salt reactor (MSR) design—the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR)—as a potentially transformational technology for meeting future energy needs in the face of uncertain market, policy, and regulatory constraints. The LFTR is a liquid-fueled, graphite-moderated thermal spectrum breeder reactor optimized for operation on a Th- 233U fuel cycle. The LFTR design considered in this work draws heavily from the 1960s-era Molten Salt Reactor Experiment and subsequent design work on a similar two-fluid molten salt breeder reactor design. Enhanced safety characteristics, increased natural resource utilization, and high operating temperatures, among other features, offer utilities and other potential owners/operators access to new products, markets, applications, and modes of operation. The LFTR represents a dramatic departure from today’s dominant and proven commercial light water reactor technology. Accordingly, the innovative and commercially unproven nature of MSRs, as with many other advanced reactor concepts, presents significant challenges and risks in terms of financing, licensing, construction, operation, and maintenance. This technology assessment comprises three principal activities based on adaptation of standardized methods and guidelines: 1) rendering of preliminary LFTR design information into a standardized system design description format; 2) performance of a preliminary process hazards analysis; and 3) determination of technology readiness levels for key systems and components. The results of the assessment provide value for a number of stakeholders. For utility or other technology customers, the study presents structured information on the LFTR design status that can directly inform a broader technology feasibility assessment in terms of safety and technology maturity. For the developer, the assessment can focus and drive further design development and documentation and establish a baseline for the technological maturity of key MSR systems and components. For EPRI, the study offers an opportunity to exercise and further develop advanced nuclear technology assessment tools and expertise through application to a specific reactor design. The early design stage of the LFTR concept indicates the need for significant investment in further development and demonstration of novel systems and components. The application of technology assessment tools early in reactor system design can provide real value and facilitate advancement by identifying important knowledge and design performance gaps at a stage when changes can be incorporated with the least impact to cost, schedule, and licensing.
We should be alert to the importance or Risk management in the Southern Corporation's LFTR play. The Report reflects a risk management stratigy for Kirk Sorensen's FLiBe Energy, as well as its patron and its prospective customer. Each is undertaking a different set of Risks. In addition o rthe risks that the Report identifies, there are risks that it fails to mention.  Among them are the market Risks that will be encountered if Uranium or Plutonium fueled Molten Salt Reactors are brought to market 10 years before the LFTR anticipated launch date of 2035.  No matter how admirable the eventual LFTR design may be, from the viewpoint of climate risk, 2035 may be too late.

We are talking here about the existential risk posed by climate change, and a 2035 LFTR's ability to avert that risk.  The MSR developers as well as Per Peterson who is developing a Molten Salt Cooled solid fuel Reactor that I hope to write about later, all seem to be aiming at a 2025 product launch date.  By 2035 the North American MSR Industry could be churning out hundreds and even thousands of MSRs every year.  Needless to say, I will talk about this more later.  In addition to North American MSRs, we could well see molten salt cooled reactors being factory produced by China, as early as 2025, and it is well within Chinese potential to build Uranium fueled MSRs within the same time frame.  The Chinese are also attempting their fuel source risks, by developing their own version of Kirk Sorensen's LFTR, and it might be avaliable before 2035.

Reeding more deeply into the Report: It seems that Southern's interest in the LFTR post 2035 is as a replacement for its current Light Water Reactors, which will have to be replaced about then.  The LFTR is attractive, because of its potential lower cost, coupled with a potential for long term operations.  So the LFTR becomes a candidate for baseload power source.

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