Case for Accelerated 4th Generation Nuclear Fission

Charles Barton makes the case for an accelerated but safe effort to develop the next generation of nuclear fission technology.

The conventional view is that it would take a long time to develop Generation IV nuclear technology. This is mistaken because the Indians expect to complete a commercial Generation IV Fast Breeder Prototype Reactor in 2011, and then begin to build standard production reactors immediately after. They currently expect to complete at least 4 commercial fast breeders by 2020, and more later.

The long gestation period view assumes that the development of Generation IV technology would be conducted with business as usual approaches. But if we think that the fate of human society would rest on the pace of a Generation IV development project, would a business as usual approach make sense? Alternatives would be a simi-Manhatten project model and a mini-Manhattan project approach. The difference would have to do with time scale, with the Simi-Manhattan project approach trying to bring in everything in a two to three year time range, while the mini approach might take 5 years. The mini approach might cost $20 billion, perhaps twice the cost of the business as usual approach, but at the end of the five years a saleable product, and a factory to build it would be ready.

Given the dual crises of CO2 emissions/Anthropogenic Global Warming and Peak Oil, and the potential for Generation IV nuclear technology, a rapid nuclear development program is demanded.

In the Simi-Manhattan project alternative design approaches would be researched in parallel, while in the mini approach they might be investigated sequentially. Both would involve spending at a robust level. There are shortcuts to development including licensing sucessful technology. This might include licensing Russian BN-600 technology, Indian Fast Breeder Prototype Reactor technology, in addition too drawing on American Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) technology and experience. I am not a big fan of the LMFBR type, but it is probably inevitable that we are going to build some, and if we do, we might as well develop and build them fast.

In 1980 the ORNL staff estimated that a commercial DMSR could be developed for $700 million (about 2.5 billion in 2009 dollars). Given another 2.5 billion for the development of the LFTR prototype we would have a total investment of between 5 and 6 Billion 2009 dollars investment. At that point there would be a product ready to go on the assembly line. Thus the total investment in the LFTR would be comparable to the Federal investment into the LWR. It would be one fourth the investment made so far in unsuccessful American LMFBR technology.

My analysis suggests that with factory production and by recycling coal fired power plants, modular LFTRs can come online for an investment as small as a dollar a watt. Let us assume that the actual cost is twice that. We still have a price for LFTRs that is lower than the 2009 price for windmills, even with a capacity factor no better than the windmills, the LFTR would be a far better buy because of its superior flexibility.

India Nuclear Plans to 2020

Previously the Prime Minister of India gave a speech indicating that India should strive to achieve 40 GWe of nuclear power by 2020. The official Indian target has been 20 GWe by 2020.

India is expected to generate 30,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2020, according to Baldev Raj, director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), at Kalpakkam.

Addressing the 23rd convocation at Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy (SASTRA) University, here yesterday, he said the generation may go upto 400,000 MW by 2050. “Large amount of energy is needed for bring” out changes in various fields in the country,” Dr Raj said.

It is significant that the executives who are responsible for India’s nuclear power construction are now talking about higher targets.