Bob Effendi, a native of Indonesia, helped ThorCon win its 2015 deals with Indonesian companies to work on thorium nuclear power. In 2015, three state-owned companies in Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding with a U.S.-based firm called Martingale. They agreed to conduct a feasibility study on how Martingale’s design for a thorium salt reactor it calls ThorCon could be brought to the Southeast Asian nation.
Effendi was asked to join the energy working group of the National Economic and Industry Committee, or KEIN. The committee reports to the president and helps formulate a long-term strategy for economic growth. Effendi says the committee was asked by the energy ministry to develop a nuclear roadmap that focuses on economic feasibility and takes into account new technologies. A roadmap does not mean a concrete plan is in place.
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.
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. 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 approach.
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.
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.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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