Canadian Government tops up funding for General Fusion and Terrestrial Energy

The Canadian government in March, 2016 announced $206 million in support of clean technology initiatives, including a $18.5 million in grants for next-generation nuclear power companies Terrestrial Energy and General Fusion.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) provided a $12.75 million package for General Fusion and $5.7 million for molten salt nuclear fission company Terrestrial Energy.

General Fusion’s grants are staged across a number of milestones that requires matching funds equal to twice the amount of the grants, indicating a $38.25 million investment for the company. General Fusion (GF), which was established in 2002, said it had raised more than $100 million from a global syndicate of investors.

GF said it was working with McGill University’s Shock Wave Physics Group and Toronto-based engineering firm Hatch, which will focus on design of the full-scale energy demonstration system that is the next step to the company’s mission to develop its Magnetized Target Fusion technology on an industrial scale.

General Fusion is working on compressing a Compact Torus in liquid metal using an acoustic wave generated by compressed gas pistons. This approach has attractive reactor engineering features: strongly reduced neutrons damage (1E-5 reduction in neutron flux with E>2 MeV), high tritium breeding ratio (1.5), and low cost (~$2/W). General Fusion is developing reactor subsystems and presently forming long-lived spheromaks. Experiments also include an ongoing program to compress spheromaks in 80 µs using a fast liner.

General Fusion is nearing significant milestones. General Fusion’s Approach is Magnetized target fusion (MTF). Magnetized target fusion is a hybrid between magnetic fusion and inertial confinement fusion. In MTF, a compact toroid, or donut-shaped magnetized plasma, is compressed mechanically by an imploding conductive shell, heating the plasma to fusion conditions.

General Fusion has a full-scale prototype [of the injectors and other subsystems], twin plasma injectors resembling five-metre-long cones, each attached to opposite ends of a three-metre-diameter sphere, would pulse a few milligrams of hydrogen gas, heat it until it becomes a plasma, and inject it into a vortex of swirling liquid metal. Electricity circulating in the plasma would create magnetic fields that bind the plasma together and confine the heat.

From there, an array of as many as 300 huge pistons attached to the sphere’s shell would act like synchronized jackhammers, ramming it at 200 km/hr. This would send shockwaves into the very centre of the chamber, compressing the hydrogen isotopes to 100 million degrees celsius — hot enough for fusion to occur, and good enough to generate clean electricity from steam turbines.

General Fusion reached its milestones on the piston timing about two years ago. Technicians are now perfecting functionality of the plasma injectors.

It is often proposed that pulsed rather than steady-state approaches may be more practical for fusion. Most pulsed systems, such as inertial confinement, use targets made of lead, aluminum, and even gold, which are destroyed on each pulse. The amount of electricity produced from a single pulse would be worth only a few dollars, so these targets must be very inexpensive for these pulsed systems to be practical. In contrast, the target in General Fusion’s system is a spheromak plasma composed entirely of fusion fuel – there are no consumables.

General Fusion is developing full scale subsystems to demonstrate that they can meet their performance targets. This includes full scale plasma injectors and acoustic drivers, and liquid metal vortex compression tests. Every step is matched with simulation to guide ongoing development work.

In the next phase of development, General Fusion will be constructing a full scale prototype system. The prototype will be designed for single pulse testing, demonstrating full net energy gain on each pulse, a world first.

Molten Salt Terrestrial Energy

Terrestrial Energy, which recently announced its engagement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission involving a pre-licensing review for its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) design, said its award would help it step up pre-commercial activities for IMSR project development, which will conclude with construction of an electrically-heated non-nuclear mock-ups that will “test and demonstrate many aspects of IMSR operation.

Terrestrial Energy said it was on a 30-month time line on the data collection designed to validate safety analysis computer codes.

Terrestrial Energy in January 2015 announced a collaboration with ORNL (US Oak Ridge National Lab) to develop its IMSR design to the engineering blueprint stage.

The conceptual design stage is anticipated to be completed in 2017.

Canadian David LeBlanc is developing the Integral Molten Salt Reactor, or IMSR. The goal is to commercialize the Terrestrial reactor by 2021.

Molten Salt and Oilsands
* Using nuclear produced steam for Oil Sands production long studied
* Vast majority of oil only accessible by In-Situ methods
* No turbine island needed so 30% to 40% the capital cost saved (instead of steam to turbine for electricity just send it underground to produce oil from oilsands)
* Oil sands producers expected to pay 200 Billion$ on carbon taxes over the next 35 years, funds mandated to be spent on cleantech initiatives
* Canada Oil Sands in ground reserves of 2 trillion barrels, current estimate 10% recoverable (likely much higher with cheaper steam)
* 64 GWth nuclear to add 6.4 million bbls/day (200B$/year revenue)
* 64 GWth needed as about 200 small 300MWth MSRs
* Oil Sands a bridge to MSRs then with time, MSRs a bridge to not needing oil

So each 300 MW thermal MSR would generate $1 billion per year in oil revenue from the oilsands.
A 300 MW thermal reactor would be the same as a 100 MW electrical reactor. Even if costs were as much proportionally as a $10 billion 1 GWe conventional nuclear reactor (the high costs of the most expensive european or US projects.) the $1 billion cost would be recovered in about 2-4 years. Also, they indicated that there is no turbine to produce electricity since only steam is used. So the costs should be $700 million max.

This profitability means that the first 200 units should easily be profitable. Usually making more units has a improvement rate in lowering costs by a few percentage points for each later unit. The oilsand units would also generate the money to help payoff research and development costs, which would initial come from oilsand taxes and oilsand partners.

In previous design discussions about a similar Denatured Molten Salt Reactor , David LeBlanc believed that capital costs could be 25% to 50% less for a simple DMSR converter design than for modern LWRs (light water reactors).

The 25 MWe version of the IMSR is the size of a fairly deep hottub