Thorcon floating supertanker molten salt reactors starting with 2021 prototype

ThorCon is a liquid-fuel fission power plant, under development in the US, to be built in a far-east shipyard, then floated to Indonesia, with testing starting in 2021. It generates emission-free electric power, cheaper even than from a coal-fired plant. Its full-time electric power will improve developing nations’ economies and lifestyles, while also dissuading them from burning fossil fuels which emit CO2.

New energy is being mainly built in Asia (China, India, South and South East Asia) and the developing world. There is very little net new power being built in the USA, Europe, and Japan. Thorcon logically will focus on certification for markets where power is actually being built.

ThorCon’s genesis is in ship production. Eight oil supertanker ships were built by ThorCon’s predecessor company. This ship is the largest double hull tanker ever built. She can carry 440,000 tons of oil. Her steel weight is 67,000 tons. She required 700,000 man-hours of direct labor, a little more than 10 man-hours per ton of ship steel. About 40% of this was expended on hull steel; the rest on outfitting. She was built in less than 12 months and cost 89 million dollars in 2002.

The Hellespont Metropolis, 500,000 tons on the move, 89 million dollars

A good shipyard needs about 5 man-hours to cut, weld, coat, and erect a ton of hull steel. The yards achieve this remarkable productivity by block construction. Sub-assemblies are produced on a panel line, and combined into fully coated blocks with piping, wiring, HVAC (and scaffolding if required) pre-installed. In the last step, the blocks, weighing as much as 600 tons, are dropped into place in an immense building dock. ThorCon uses exactly the same production process except the blocks are barged to the site and dropped into place, as indicated in this demo. The essential difference between shipyards and most other assembly lines, such as aircraft manufacturing, is that shipyards build blocks on the assembly line, not the final product. The final product is put together elsewhere. Thinking in terms of blocks rather than final product is a key element in the ThorCon philosophy.

Block construction is not just about productivity. It’s about quality. Very tight dimensional control is automatically enforced.

ThorCon is designed to bring shipyard quality and productivity to fission power. But ThorCon’s structure is far simpler and much more repetitive than a ship’s. The silo hall employs concrete-filled, steel plate, sandwich walls. This results in a strong, air-tight, ductile building. A 1 GWe ThorCon requires about 18,000 tons of steel for the fission island, all simple flat plate. A properly implemented panel line will be able to produce these blocks using less than 2 man-hours per ton of steel.

Similarly, all the other components will be manufactured on an assembly line and delivered to the site as fully outfitted and pre-tested blocks. Each power module will require a total of 31 blocks. Upon arrival at the site, the blocks will be dropped into place and the wall and roof blocks welded together using the automatic hull welding machines the yards have developed for this purpose. The wall cells will then be filled with concrete. Almost no form work is required.

To make the system work we must have big blocks — blocks that are far larger than can be transported by truck or rail. ThorCon blocks are up to 23 meters wide and 40 meters long. Such blocks can be barged well up most major rivers, including the St. Lawrence and into the Great Lakes.

A 1 GWe ThorCon is so small that the fission island almost fits into two center tanks of the Hellespont Metropolis, and requires one fourth as much steel. This steel requirement is roughly equivalent to a medium size, Suezmax tanker.

The Suezmax can move herself at 15 knots, survive a hurricane, and discharge her cargo in about a day. A good shipyard can profitably build a Suezmax for 60 million dollars.

A big shipyard can turn out 100 of these ships a year. It could easily manufacture 100 one GWe ThorCons per year.

In terms of resource requirements, a 1GWe ThorCon is not a big deal.

Powering up our world

ThorCon technology is globally scalable to build 100 1-GW power plants per year. Time from order to electricity generation will be two years. Steel-working capacity of world shipyards is 4 times this requirement. Developing nations know that each 1 GW electric power plant can support $32 billion of new GDP. Electrified rich nations may do what they want, but developing nations do what they must — maximize power to their people. ThorCon power plants can steal the 1400 GW market from coal-fired plants. Powering up the world with ThorCon will eliminate 8 gigatons of additional annual CO2 emissions from the planned coal plants, cutting emissions more than all the 6 gigatons/year reductions nations agreed to in Paris.

Prototypes should be tortured, not licensed
ThorCon is based on a test-then-license process. Here is the prototype testing schedule.

1      Complete design, prepare specs for yard and other vendors. Get quotes, negotiate pre-fission, full scale prototype contracts. Sub-system tests.
2      Build pre-fission prototype, sub-system tests, detailed design / specs of fission prototype
3      Pre-fission tests. Confirm thremo-hydraulics, stresses at operating temperature, exercise safety, instrumentation and replacement systems.
Long lead time contracts for fission prototype, Obtain approval for 0 power fission testing.
4      Convert pre-fission module to fission. Start build of second module
5      Ramp up Module 1 to full power in a step wise fashion over the year. Complete build of 2nd module
6      Long-run tests on one module; casualty testing on other. Prototype self-supporting from power sales. Start accepting orders.

Prototype Testing Schedule

The prototype is a complete 500 MWe ThorCon. No further scale up is required. After the tests are successfully completed, we can begin deployment.

The major milestones are:
1. At the end of Year 1, when we have the yard and other vendor quotes in.
2. At the of year 3, when the results of the pre-fission tests are available.
3. At the end of year 5, when the results of the first year of fission testing are available.

The project can be aborted at any of these points.

If the prototype is successful, we will ramp up toward an annual production of 50 or more GWe plants per year

Thor certifying and building in Indonesia and then Asia

Indonesia’s energy ministry and regulatory agency start the ThorCon planning roadmap and pre-licensing certification processes early in 2018.

ThorCon does not plan to install power plants in the US. US construction tradition and regulatory bureaucracy have led to deca-billion-dollar nuclear power plants, at triple the costs of South Korea’s similar domestic and exported nuclear power reactors.

ThorCon will cost a fraction of a traditional solid-fuel nuclear power plant. ThorCon moves liquid fuel with a pump, but solid-fuel plants must mechanically remove, reshuffle, and replace precision fuel pins. ThorCon garden-hose-pressure liquid fuel doesn’t need traditional 9-inch-thick, forged, high-pressure reactor vessels nor giant rebar-concrete containments for radioactive steam. ThorCon uses the same competitively-sourced, high-temperature steam turbine-generator as a modern coal plant. Shipyard construction locates expensive skilled labor and construction machinery apart from the installation site.

Proven Technology

ThorCon uses proven technology. They use commercially available materials and components to keep to schedule and cost goals. No Rand D is needed. The design is based on Oak Ridge Lab’s meticulous memoranda documenting liquid fuel fission.

Thorcon plans to get the 250 MW prototype built within 4 years after they start construction.

* Instead of 10,000 tons of coal per day the Thorcon would use 15 kg of uranium per day.
* It will generate only one Cubic Meter of High Level Waste every 1 GW-year

The Five Fundamental Features of ThorCon

1. ThorCon is Fixable

No complex repairs are attempted on site. Everything in the fission island except the building itself is replaceable with little or no interruption in power output. Every four years the entire primary loop is changed out, returned to a centralized recycling facility, decontaminated, disassembled, inspected, and refurbished. Incipient problems are caught before they can turn into casualties. Major upgrades can be introduced without significantly disrupting power generation. Such renewable plants can operate indefinitely; but, if a ThorCon is decommissioned, the process is little more than pulling out but not replacing all the replacable parts.

2. ThorCon is Walkaway Safe

ThorCon is a molten salt reactor. Unlike all current reactors, the fuel is in liquid form. If the reactor overheats for whatever reason, ThorCon will shut itself down, and passively handle the decay heat. There is no need for any operator intervention. There is nothing the operators can do to prevent the shutdown and cooling. The ThorCon reactor is 15 m underground. ThorCon has at least three gas tight barriers between the fuelsalt and the atmosphere. The reactor operates at garden hose pressure. In the event of a primary loop rupture, there is no dispersal energy and no phase change. The spilled fuel merely flows to a drain tank where it is passively cooled. The most troublesome fission products, including 90Sr and 137Cs, are chemically bound to the salt. They will end up in the drain tank as well.

3. ThorCon is Ready to Go ThorCon requires no new technology.
ThorCon is a straightforward scale-up of the successful Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE). There is no technical reason why a full-scale 250 MWe prototype cannot be operating within four years. The intention is to subject this prototype to all the failures and problems that the designers claim the plant can handle. As soon as the prototype passes these tests, commercial production can begin.

4. ThorCon is Rapidly Deployable
The entire ThorCon plant including the building is manufactured in blocks on a shipyard-like assembly line. These 150 to 500 ton, fully outfitted, pre-tested blocks are barged to the site. A 1 GWe ThorCon will require less than 200 blocks. Site work is limited to excavation and erecting the blocks. This produces order of magnitude improvements in productivity, quality control, and build time. A single large reactor yard can turn out one hundred 1 GWe ThorCons per year. ThorCon is much more than a power plant; it is a system for building power plants.

5. ThorCon is Cheaper than Coal ThorCon requires far less resources than a coal plant. Assuming efficient, evidence based regulation, ThorCon can produce clean, reliable, carbon free, electricity at less than the cost of coal.

Much Cheaper than Coal

Uranium is cheaper than coal per unit of energy. Coal at $40/ton costs $5.68/MWh of heat energy. Uranium @$20/pound costs $0.32/MWh.

Capital costs are less than for coal-burning plants. Both use the same turbine-generators to convert high-temperature steam to electricity, but the coal-fired steam plant is massively larger. A gigawatt coal plant must receive, store, and pulverize 10,000 tons of coal daily, burn it in a 125 m high boiler, operate a flue gas treatment system, and dispose over 1,000 tons of ash daily. The coal-firing steam plant is built with 3 times the materials needed for ThorCon, which replaces its 360 ton reactor Can at 4 year intervals and replaces 38 tons of fuel salt every 8 years.

ThorCon generates energy cheaper than coal. Because fuel costs are less and capital costs are less, full-time electricity can be produced at the power plant for 3 cents/kWh, cheaper than coal and competitive with natural gas.

The Team

Jack Devanney

Jack Devanney is the principal engineer and architect of ThorCon. Since
2011 he has pursued the idea of using ship construction technology to mass produce safe,
inexpensive power plants that can bring the benefits of electricity to all with nil CO2 emissions. His prior 25-year career dealt with designing, building, and operating oil tankers,
including the largest double hull tankers ever built. Before that he served on the faculty of
the Ocean Engineering department at MIT for ten years. Jack’s MIT education includes
an MS in naval architecture and a PhD in management science.

Lars Jorgensen
Lars Jorgensen is one of the lead architects of the ThorCon molten salt reactor. Lars designed the off-gas system and conducted analyses of neutronics and decay heat. Most recently from Texas Instruments, Jorgensen was Chief Technical Officer for the Digital Radio Product group. Prior to that he was Vice President of Engineering at Graychip, Inc., a semiconductor company specializing in dedicated signal processing. Previously he was a Principal Engineer at ESL/TRW. His education includes a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.

Ralph Moir

Ralph Moir is a nuclear engineer who produced several hundred papers while working at Livermore labs. In 2004 together with Manhattan Project veteran Edward Teller, he published a design for an underground molten salt reactor. He has reviewed and improved the ThorCon design. Dr Moir is a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Nuclear Society. He holds BSc and PhD degrees in nuclear engineering
from MIT.

Dane Wilson

Dane Wilson has decades of experience in corrosion science and technology. He recently retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he worked on materials and systems for use in molten fluoride salts, high temperature gaseous environments, and other pernicious working fluids of interest to energy and hydrogen production. He earned a BSc in physics (solid state), MS in material science and engineering, PhD in metallurgy (corrosion and surface science), and an MBA.

David Devanney

Mr. Devanney has a history of starting up new companies in a variety of areas including education, power generation, real estate development and marine transportation. His most successful venture was the founding and management of Tankship Transport, a ship owning and operating company which managed one million deadweight tons of its own large oil tankers and another million tons of tankers for outside owners. At ThorCon, Dave’s focus is raising financing for the technology and finding a host country for the prototype power plant. Mr. Devanney received a BA in philosophy from Loyola University and a MA in education from New York University.