Interview Clarifies Current Situation With Thorcon and the Indonesian Government

Nextbigfuture interviewed Robert Hargraves of Thorcon to clarify some information about the status of the revolutionary Thorcon molten salt nuclear reactor and the implications of the new agreement with PAL Indonesia. There is good technical progress on this very promising project. Indonesia’s businesses and government are very interested but further approvals are needed. Thorcon now has agreements with multiple shipyards who would want to build the mass producible molten salt nuclear reactors.

The reactor would use standard steam turbines and early development and testing would de-risk all of the innovative aspects of the design. All of the design thinking behind Thorcon has the goal of low-cost economics, passive safety and mass production at a global scale in mind.

Robert Hargraves participates in the ThorCon design and project. Robert wrote “THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal” which highlights the importance of an energy source that will undersell plentiful coal.

Thorcon needs to raise more funds to build the reactor and to complete designs and testing. The Indonesian government must still approve the reactor project but they are performing detailed technical and economic studies of the Thorcon system. PAL Indonesia is a state-backed ship building company that is willing to work with Thorcon.

In 2018 at a Indonesia ministries and agencies meeting in Bali. Director of New and Renewable Energy, Mr. Harris, presented the Nuclear Power Plant Development Roadmap created by the Department of Energy, indicating that the first 1000 MWe nuclear power plant has to operate before 2027. Indonesia needs new power plants to deliver electricity costing less than 7 cents/kWh, and also meet a mandatory grace period of 7 days, the time a reactor must sustain cooling without power.

A South Korean shipyard estimate and Thorcon estimates are ThorCon power plants can be mass-produced by shipyards at costs of $800/kW to $1000/kW. This is lower than the $1400/kw of the lowest cost coal plants.

Thorcon nuclear molten salt can swap in and replace coal burners in coal plants. They produce steam at the same temperature and are compatible with standard steam turbines.

The Indonesia Ministry of Energy signed a memorandum of understanding with ThorCon International, Pte. Ltd. on October 10, 2018. As the first step of the agreement, the Ministry of Energy is carrying out a study in conjunction with PLN on the safety and economics of the ThorCon demonstration plant. It is expected to be completed in mid-2019 when its recommendations will be presented to the President of Indonesia.

The Thorcon design phase has been mostly completed. There are computational models, 2D drawings and 3D CAD models. Suppliers’ cost estimates for future production versions are compatible with company estimates of electricity production costs of 3 cents/kWh prior to profits and government fees.

Thorcon will build a pre-fission test facility (PTF) at full scale, including the components of the fission island and the thermal power conversion chain. The fuel salt will not contain enriched uranium and will not sustain a chain reaction to generate power. The components will be brought up to operating temperatures using electric heating. The absence of radioactivity allows intrusive instrumentation, direct observation, and internal access to components.

Extensive testing will include operating pumps at full temperatures and pressures, freeze valve drains to drain tanks, actuation of shutdown rods, and instrumentation. Engineers will measure thermal expansion, confirm heat transfer rates, verify thermal hydraulics characteristics, test sensors, transfer molten salts between the Pot and fuel casks. System responses to simulated failures will be monitored closely.

When testing is successfully completed, Thorcon expects Indonesia’s Bapeten regulator to refine its regulations and issue a type license citing the design is safe for similar future power plants. Indonesia’s PLN will sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the company, which will build, install, and operate 3 GW of additional ThorCon power plants. The PPA will enable financing with traditional loans. As these plants are put into operation the company expects world-wide orders for such shipyard-constructed power plants that deliver nonstop electric energy cheaper than coal.

Main Thorcon Funder and Architect

Gary Bergstrom is the lead investor in ThorCon International Pte, a Singapore-based company seeking funding to start building a test model within a year. In 1977, Gary Bergstrom founded Acadian Asset Management LLC, a global quantitative investment firm with $95 billion in assets under management. He stepped down as chairman in 2011.

Bloomberg reports that ThorCon’s goal is to raise $10 million to start construction within 12 months on a non-fission test system, according to Chief Executive Officer David Devanney.

ThorCon is in talks with South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. to build its plants.

Jack Devanney is the principal engineer and architect of the ThorCon molten salt reactor power plant. He has pursued his idea of using shipyard construction technology to mass-produce safe, inexpensive power plants that can bring the benefits of electricity to all the world, with no CO2 emissions. He served on MIT’s faculty of Ocean Engineering for ten years.

Jack designed, managed building and operating 440,000 ton ultra large crude carriers. They were the world’s largest oil tankers at the time. Devanney was responsible for specifications, financing, yard negotiations, supervision, and all major technical and commercial decisions. Devanney’s MIT education includes a BS and MS in naval architecture and a PhD in management science.

34 thoughts on “Interview Clarifies Current Situation With Thorcon and the Indonesian Government”

  1. The idea is to get away from fossil fuels, right? And a ship based plant allows cheap power to be delivered to isolated areas with. waterways. And 2, they dont use nuke parts, its a completely different process, and they’ll be testing the modular reactors before installation into the ships. Its safe mate, chill

  2. I’ve just watched their latest presentation video on youtube, and in that they cover all of your concerns.

  3. Is paying as little as possible for power more important than leaving your grandchildren a future? Please get it through your heads, folks: we gotta stop burning fossil fuels, afa humanly p. Cost of replacements is irrelevant, though we do need to choose the safest, cleanest, then most cost-effective alternatives.

    Where a coal-fired steam-turbine plant already exists, a MSR is the right temperature to drop in and replace the boiler. Doing that while preserving the rest of the plant should save ratepayers money, compared to building anything entirely new. And it can burn up high level radioactive wastes. How many “wins” in a row do you need?

  4. Word limits.

    3) ThorCon means to build these things to last only four years before they need rebuilding? That sounds like planned obsolescence to the extreme: good for ThorCon’s bottom line, but not ratepayers’. Planned obsolescence is part of what is destroying the planet. We need to insist that all widgets be built to last.

    It also sounds like ThorCon wants to use Thorium to fuel its rectors. Thorium disposal is a problem: but we also have 80,000 tons of “spent” pressurized water reactor fuel (only 4% of it is actually burnt up, spent), dangerous, high-level radioactive wastes in the U.S. alone to dispose of, and a MSR, reprocessing on site, can burn 96% of it into safe, useful, valuable, non-radioactive elements. Some MSRs can burn plutonium from decommissioned nuclear weapons, some U-238; we have thousands of years of fuel already mined, and we never need dig up a national monument for uranium again. Please design these so they can burn anything fissionable, build them near concentrations of wastes to be disposed of, then use them to eventually reduce our high-level radioactive waste disposal problem by about 95%. Please.

    BTW: you could start at Boardman, Oregon, where Portland General Electric is decommissioning a coal plant next year. Drop in a MSR and keep the turbines etc. in use? Bet it would save the ratepayers a ton of money, and all the fuel they would ever need is right up the river at Hanford.

  5. I’ve been studying this for a while, while writing a book on kicking climate change’ butt. I wish ThorCon rapid success, but they have three very bad ideas:

    1) They mean to deploy their reactor modules on ships and barges, which means they can only go in harbors, offshore, or up large rivers until the locks become too small; there they are subject to wind, wave, tsunami, sea level rise, storm surge, flood…. Where they are going to do this, I hope they incorporate desalination and brine mining. But Aeroscraft and Lockheed-Martin, among many others, are developing “big lifters,” lighter-than-air craft, that should be able to deliver ThorCon’s largest components anywhere on the planet and act as the hover crane to lower them exactly where needed. I hope they are talking to each other. These are two industries we badly need, and they could help each other along.

    2) ThorCon means to reprocess fuel off-site. Part of that makes molten salt fission attractive is the ability to reprocess fuel on site, as part of the primary coolant cycle. Otherwise you are trucking fiendishly radioactive materials, lots of it, around on the highways and rails to and from reprocessing centers where it is subject to spills and terrorist diversion. Please, ThorCon, don’t externalize that cost and those grave risks onto society; hire the expertise you need to design on-site reprocessing into every reactor you build.

    3) ThorCon means to build these things to last only for years before they need rebu

  6. Jerry,

    I’m not doubting your analysis of the greens’ their hypocrisy, nor their grasp of facts nor their morals. What I pointed out simply was that climate change is man-made and real as a heart-attack. The models match, it has an easy-to-grasp, low-level physical cause, it is science in the true form because it makes predictions about things that are accurate.

    I have a simple litmus test as to whom I think is really serious about the threat that climate change imposes. I ask them if they support nuclear power.

    If they don’t, I think one of two things:

    1. you have no real concern for climate change, you are in it for the prestige, power, ideology, whatever.
    2. you have no idea what a number is, how to do analysis, or have the not the vaguest clue of what systems thinking is or how it impacts your life.

    so yeah I’m sorry but when I hear the ‘models don’t match’ or some such it just makes me stiffen a bit and I go into autocorrect mode.

  7. Then why aren’t they calling for an immediate nuclear power push?

    Oh, wait – they don’t WANT to keep the lights on. They don’t WANT to keep civilization at the point it’s at.

    They want it for themselves, and the rest of us need to live in mud huts and starve.

    (Yeah, I’m looking at the Google Enviro-Meeting recently, where they all flew in their private jets. Way to show us you’re serious, guys.)

  8. Not sure if you have ever been to a coal plant before?

    I have surveyed for several, both active and proposed. Not including mining, you are talking maybe 50 acres per MW of space needed. With the mine for 2-3 years of power you have just destroyed about 500-1000 acres per MW.

    I have literally done surveys around a coal mine and power plant (look up Liddell near Singleton, NSW). I surveyed through 50-100 dead Kangaroos from them drinking out of a wash pond because the sonic emitter that keeps them away failed. Coal is nasty stuff.

    Seriously, go look at the pock-marked surface of the area around Singleton, NSW, Australia. Then look at West Virginia and remember that when you see a bunch of trees that look like that they are in prefect order, its a mine rehab hill. Its very visible in Google Earth if you know what you are looking at. Thats coal.

  9. which models predicted the correct sea rise based on models? the ipcc’s models – that’s who. you know the ones that are the most conservative tracking the peer-reviewed scientific research.

    look at:

    in particular, figure 2. as you can see, reality pegs right to the top of the prediction range. In fact we are underestimating the rise level simply because the glaciers are melting faster than we thought, and most of the rise comes from thermal expansion.

    in any case, I didn’t start this debate – I hate throwaway comments like jerry’s because they are intellectually lazy and worse, downright wrong. However I do hope that my post here ends it.

  10. “they match reality jerry, they match reality. ”

    Whose models are they, I can well remember that by the end of the century we were supposed to have sea level rise of 2.1 meters.
    A decade has passed since then but where are the 20 centimeters the sea level was supposed to have risen since then? Lets face it the models are always adjusted to match the realities on the ground and the forecasts are not worth much more than my horoscope.
    Having said that, in my opinion there is warming, but nowhere at the rate it has been forecast.
    But I don’t want to start another debate here. Stick to the subject.

  11. That’s par for the course in every PWR too, isn’t it – pressure tests of the whole system before it’s fueled ? MSRs run at low pressure, but certainly for the prototype, they’d run it with depleted or natural uranium in the circuit first. They could mix in some non-radiocative ‘fission products’ as well, and pump some hydrogen in to see how tritium would behave. Cerium could stand in for plutonium. That’s their whole rationale for going straight to a working example, instead of building a pilot scale model – thorough testing before getting it irradiated.
    Incidentally, they claim that Rickover did the same thing for the Nautilus.
    ‘ The decision to go pressurized water was not made until March, 1950. Shortly thereafter Rickover, against the advice of all, decided to go straight to a full scale prototype. At the time no such thing as a PWR existed at any scale. Rickover wasn’t scaling up. He was going from nothing to full scale….
    1950-03 Decision to go PWR. At the time, no PWR of any scale had ever been build. Just a Weinberg patent and some sketches. No one knew how to make control rods, cladding, bearings that could handle PWR conditions. 
    1950-? Decision to go straight to full scale prototype, S1W, in Idaho. No pilot plant. Nil sub-system testing. Westinghouse, BuShips aghast…
    1953-03 SW1 goes critical.’

  12. they match reality jerry, they match reality. All climate models are validated against the past, where the physical data about the earth (carbon balance, sources and sinks, hydrographics) is put in one side and a climate model comes out the other which then can be matched against real satellite data with pressures, temperatures, etc.

    so climate change is deadly real. you can always cherry pick parts of the data that don’t match mainly because the earth’s climate is so variable, but overall the averages don’t lie – which isn’t surprising when we put an average of 4 uranium bombs of heat into the atmosphere each second.

  13. Those 400 Chinese engineers are also working on a liquid fuel design. No progress to report. It’ll take many years just to prove they can get the longevity required from new materials that are designed to handle the corrosive stress for decades. So I don’t expect any progress report until like 2025

  14. “push the DOE to fund a modest experimental facility…”

    Nope. Can’t do that. It’s NUCLEAR, and the friggin’ anti-nuke luddites will fight it tooth and nail in the courts.

    But hey, we’ve only got 14 months until CAGW is irreversible, supposedly. At this point (in a scenario where rationalists had vetted and confirmed the danger, not depending on ‘computer models’ that weren’t matching reality) they’d do a 180 and go all-out on getting as many nuclear power plants built as possible.

  15. Inductive heating of a liquid fuel design shouldn’t be much different. That’s what Thorcon propose.

  16. Forgive me, I’m sure the comment about “MSR uses much higher power density fuel” seems perfectly reasonable to most… Do you realize that the majority of core volume of thermal MSRs like MSRE and ThroCon is displaced by graphite? The conceptual fast spectrum MSRs obviously don’t use graphite, so perhaps the power density comment could be true in their case. The power density figure of merit is going to be mass flow rate times enthalpy rise divided by core volume with the cold temp presumably being whatever 600-800C and the hot temp limited by whatever materials can handle it before the salt vaporizes at 1400C. The point is that just about any reactor could have an arbitrarily enormous power density, for some period, before self destruction. There are LWR test reactors that make a MW per liter instead of 110KW/liter in commercial PWR; those super high power density reactors have plate fuel and tremendous coolant flow with room temperature water. The rules of how far neutrons fly means the reactors should be several meters in major dimension or else the neutrons leak out. There really isn’t any reason to make a 1 meter MSR at 1MW/liter. It might sound cool, but its just going to bleed neutrons and need high enrichment to overcome that.

  17. The problem with doing this for a coal plant is that they are not as modular and cannot be constructed in small units efficiently due to the environmental regulations on controlling their emissions and the supporting facilities needed. A steam powered locomotive is essentially a small coal power plant, but it would quadruple in size when you add in the scrubbers and other equipment to make it burn more efficiently. Then there is fuel storage, since you need a lot of coal and have to build ash dumps and storage facilities on the plant site.The power generation to size ratio is not as good as with MSR designs. MSR uses much higher power density fuel.

  18. Yup, but pretty much the entirety of NBF commenters eviscerated their design as impossible and laughed at them (and they were correct – LockMart admitted they screwed up on their claims).

  19. It doesn’t seem clear to me that’s how they want to do it long term. The advantage of pebbles – to do test runs you can use inductively heated metal spheres to simulate the nuclear pebbles. So very low design risk.

  20. So there you go, the Chinese agree on the process I spoke of. The tests in the Netherlands are not a loop of molten salt; it is a crucible of salt in a specimen holder in a LWR HFR. That is smaller scale than the purpose built test platform I was proposing as a starting point compromise for US MSR developers.

    Kairos style salt cooled pebble bed is never going to be a big thing. Maybe one built in China.

  21. China has 400 engineers on their molten salt program. Some takeaways with theirs so far:

    1. it is flibe (2LiF-BeF2)
    2. uses graphite
    3. solid fuel

    I would rate the above as the realistic viable technology right now

    EDIT and getting a reliable and affordable brayton turbine going is a prerequisite for getting the price low enough /EDIT

    They have a full size test loop but with no neutrons. Neutron molten salt loop testing is being done at Petten in Netherlands.

  22. Maybe Indonesia is that place, but tenuous public support would change to protest quickly after even minor flub. The more intelligent protesters would rightly ask, “why are we Indonesians the guinea pigs for a system that the world leaders didn’t want to build?”

    as far as qualifications go, if you look at their website, the one nuclear engineer is simply a consultant. Yes Hargraves wrote a book about Thorium…. jorgensen spent his career working on semiconductors at Texas Instruments and now he believes he is qualified to singlehandedly rehash an offgas concept from ORNL. The one guy built tankers and has a PHD in management (whatever that is) from MIT. I’d say they’re very unqualified and few in number compared to the 500, specifically nuclear, engineers employed by Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. Engineers on the WEC payroll write 1st principle radiation transport codes, not lumped parameter thermal hydraulic system codes written in Python like ThorCon. They only sound impressive to you because the internet can make small-time outfits look grandiose. The internet is not known for honest signaling.

  23. These guys have great credentials, they have really thought through the design and the plan. I would say it will work as advertised. The only problem is … how do you get something new done today? They have a good pathway for that as well, but in today’s World you would almost need a visionary leader with enough political power to simply say … ‘we are doing this’. Maybe Indonesia is that place.

  24. What the lower cost suggests is that all the infrastructure to handle the coal, its combustion, and its wastes, is a larger portion of the plant costs than one might imagine.

  25. So, construction costs are half that of a coal plant, when the design consists of 90% of a coal plant PLUS a reactor.
    Unless shipyard construction is that much cheaper, in which case someone make coal and gas plants in shipyards and
    1. make a few $billion
    2. demonstrate at least part of this project before getting to the nuke parts

  26. You are indeed a leader, but you are extrapolating when you assert “adapted very well”. The current experience base is MSRE back when you could use the Columbia River to directly cool weapons manufacturing reactors at Hanford WA.

  27. What all these cats need to do is consolidate effort and push the DOE to fund a modest experimental facility that will allow demonstration of key peripheral systems at the lab scale. To elaborate, if a HFIR or ATR type LWR (look ’em up – DOE reactors) was used to drive a 50 liter crucible of each cat’s salt composition, in turn, then REAL material science with depletion could be done AND they could demonstrate offgas and fuel handling, egads! even fancy online [re]processing, and all the multitudes of things the NRC/DOE/DOD/IAEA is afraid of in LABORATORY SCALE with kilos instead of TONS of material. Jobs all around. Papers. Continue the legacy smartly.

    These 40 year old LWR I mentioned, HIFR is low temp – pump head only pressure – extraordinarily high power, like megawatts per liter at 200F. Lots of mass flow. system could drive a depleted salt to arbitrarily high power and temperature with the proper boundary conditions. Licenseable too, because it would be a LWR with a sample in a ‘glory hole’.

    But these cats all want to save the world, powering one Indonesia at a time… skipping all the development stuff when everyone who worked on MSRE is bones.

  28. The floating molten salt nuclear technology could be adapted very well for nuclear energy production in ex territorial waters. If the facilities are under the jurisdiction of the International Atomic Energy Agency lot of safety issues could be cleared, also ones that has to do with risky countries.

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