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.