Indonesia Consider Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Cheaper than Coal Power

Scientists attending the International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Energy Systems in Bali, Indonesia, were excited by ThorCon CEO Lars Jorgensen’s presentation of the design of the TMSR-500 liquid fission power plant. Companies in Indonesia and the government of Indonesia are considering funding a test project for the Thorcon reactor. This could lead a 3.5 GW project and then eventually could lead to mass production.

SOURCES- Thorcon
Written by Brian Wang,

34 thoughts on “Indonesia Consider Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Cheaper than Coal Power”

  1. I was thinking that a molten salt reactor fuel by thorium could be built to run very hot. Use lead as the coolant. The idea would be to get as much power per unit surface area since the main cost other than the fuel would be the container. I assume turbines and generators cost about the same per MW if fuel is coal.

    The limit to how much heat you could generated would be limited by your ability to pump lead. A relatively small reactor could generate a lot of power.

  2. Thorcon’s design has some important differences from the MSRE. The three main problems cited for not proceeding with molten salts were surface cracking of the hastelloy, reactions of the hastelloy with fission product tellurium, and escape of tritium evolved from lithium 6 in the salt. Solutions to these were proposed, but Thorcon avoids them completely. They use stainless steel instead of more expensive hastelloy, and just change out the whole system after seven years, before significant corrosion can occur. By not attempting to breed, but just running a convertor that still needs uranium fuel, they avoid the difficulty of fuel processing, and also the need to enrich lithium to 99.995% Li7 – they don’t use lithium at all. So they should be cheaper to build than the ORNL design, and that was comparable to a 1970 light water reactor. If they can get anywhere near 1970 prices for a reactor, they’ll do pretty well.

  3. Theoretical? I doubt it even qualifies as that. ORNL based MSRs (of which ThorCon is one) were priced as the same cost as 1970 LWR nuclear (so Gen2). So ThorCon’s price estimates don’t even really pass the laugh test.

    “In 1970 a careful detailed estimate was
    made of the capital cost of an MSR and it turned out to be within 1%
    of the cost of an LWR. Construction experience is needed, however, to
    verify such a cost estimate.”

  4. For ANY level of of a GHG price, Allam cycle with no enhanced oil recovery CO2 sequestration is still cheaper than new Gen3 nuclear. Based on baseload combined cycle natural gas, a $30 CO2 per tonne equivalent only adds 1 cent per kWh to its fuel cost. And that’s about the medium term price (“subsidy” you called it) needed to build that solution out. A 1 cent per kWh “subsidy” for nuclear would perhaps save existing plants only. It would do zero for the viability of new ones. And wind+solar+batteries is cheaper than either of those two solutions for up to 2/3 of total electricity generated 50 degrees or less latitude from the equator.
    Re: nuclear waste – for current LWR it is 0.1 cents per kWh to throw it in a hole or 0.4 cents per kWh to dry cask it onsite. Really a non-issue compared to capital costs.
    ThorCon is based on the ORNL reactor. That required $10 per watt *thermal* to clean up the waste (so like $25-30 per watt output). This compared to ThorCon’s claims of being able to build this for like $2 per watt. They really have a high bar to prove they can get the waste stream remediation to be as cheap as current LWR technology.

  5. Big can have its own problems. The Russians have more recent experience building reactors than most, but they still managed to drop the 300 tonne pressure vessel for one of the two they were building for Byelorussia. No damage, supposedly, but they still had to replace it. Build a medium sized plant and you don’t have to wait for the world’s biggest crane to turn up and install it. Keep the top temperature below about 550 C, and it’s much easier to ensure the metals will last.

  6. Here’s an article from Rod Adams on the problematic canned pumps for the AP1000. think one of the rotor lobes cracked during testing, and the Chinese sent them all back to the US to be redesigned. They’re buying the pumps for their own Hualong One reactor from a German company, KSB Group. Westinghouse’s confidence in the no-maintenance canned design was based on computer modelling. It reminds me of the ‘new, improved’ steam generators installed in the San Onofre reactors, which developed an unexpected vibration mode, and hence a leak, which lead to both reactors being scrapped. From Rod’s article, I’m assuming that every other reactor supplier is sticking with pumps that might have seal failures, but if they do you can fix them.

  7. As far as I’m aware, apart from Iceland, where drilling is mostly for geothermal hot water and there’s plenty of near-surface ultramafic rock, CO2 sequestration has only been economic where it’s used for enhanced oil recovery. Oil is largely burnt for transport or small scale heating, so the carbon dioxide from it will most likely wind up in the air. With EOR ruled out for climate reasons, sequestration would have to rely entirely on subsidy. The nuclear industry has been paying for it’s own waste storage since day one, it’s just that some governments have made a mountain out of what should be a mole hill non-problem.

  8. For reference, are all the derivative/follow-on designs using a different canned pump design?

  9. In Indonesia, it’s pretty easy, because the entire country is coastal.
    In say… Rwanda? Not so easy.
    (Not that I’m suggesting Rwanda as a site for a nuclear plant. Just it’s a famously bad for transport location that I can think of.)

  10. remember the beautiful LFTR presentations Sorensen used to give a decade ago? I was transfixed! Power too cheap to be metered … like unlimited broadband! Alas, where are we now?

  11. That’s very sensitive to how debased the nation’s currency is. If quite debased (ratio of GDP to PPP is 0.3 for Indonesia so VERY debased) and they can build and source it almost all locally the “high” capital costs of nuclear enjoy a 70% “discount”. The reality is if your nation’s GDP to PPP ratio is 0.3 your nation is a financial basket case and will struggle to complete any project without it turning to crap. Or it is maybe “just” under sanctions like Russia so not as serious of a problem.

  12. I don’t promote Allam cycle; I don’t think it will go much of anywhere. I just point out the economics compared to new gen3 nuclear are vastly better, which should help with the conclusion of what the viability of new nuclear is.
    And four decades of commercial carbon dioxide injection and its economics are unproven?!

  13. Ah… land subsidence. Groundwater pumping problem?

    I quote, “The dramatic rate at which Jakarta is sinking is partly down to the excessive extraction of groundwater for use as drinking water, for bathing and other everyday purposes by city dwellers.”

    Seems as if the Jakartians are in charge of their own destiny.  
    But in these heady times, it is easier to pin the tail on the Seal Rise donkey.
    Even tho’ it is only 3% of Jakarta’s ‘sinking rate’.  

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  14. But how difficult is it to arrange cheap gas transport? Building a harbour for gas tankets seems much easier…

  15. The impact on the climate is too small to be measured, assuming it is even a problem. Unlike a barge mounted reactor, a catastrophic event is not going to spread radioactive material all over the islands. Unhelpful for folks living on an island with no place to go. Further, molten salt has a lot of problems from both safety and operational standpoints.

  16. In areas without cheap, assured, supplies of LNG the nuclear approach might be better too.

    Edit: A good nuclear approach. This is still experimental, or even theoretical, at this point.

  17. The reactor should last 60 years – the fuel can is only a minor component of the cost. Note that a lot of Jakarta is forecast to be under water by 2050 – that might concentrate the minds of the politicians there on longer term costs and benefits.

  18. The economics of processing the fuel waste stream from coal and gas is also totally unproven, yet you still promote Allam cycle plus carbon sequestration. The mass of carbon fuel waste, versus uranium, is about a million times greater, plus it’s a gas instead of a solid.

  19. In areas that tax, or otherwise impede, carbon dioxide emissions, that might no longer be true.

    Even if the ThorCon approach is somewhat more expensive, it might be the wiser choice, looking at the long term climate impact.

  20. The economics of processing the fuel waste stream is totally unproven. That’s a huge design risk. Don’t underestimate design risk – I called out the “sealed for life” pumps as a massive risk for the AP1000 on NBF back starting in 2012 and sure enough it was botched and sunk that reactor design forever, R.I.P.

  21. The question is can you build a Molten Salt reactor cheaper than a coal boiler plus the cost of 16 yrs of coal. If you can great, if you can’t then tough.

  22. If they want to build them in the US, then they need to beat the price of natural gas instead of coal. Low natural gas prices from fracking is killing coal, which cannot compete. That being said, I wish them the best of luck and all success. We need as many potential energy sources as possible that can compete, because each place is unique and what works in one may not work in others.

  23. People keep scoffing at nuclear startups for not having working reactors, but it’s the governments of the world keeping companies from building them.

  24. Before the NRC, nuclear energy was cheaper than coal in much of the US.

    Performance through inspection by Federal employees can make any technology look uneconomic.

  25. those flashy power points and animations. Let me know when they finish building a working commercial molten salt reactor

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