MSR’s can Restore the Economics of Nuclear Power

The UK government sees potential in the UK becoming a global exporter of small modular reactors and helping drive a major expansion of nuclear energy use worldwide. It has committed £250 million to R&D in the nuclear fission area. ‘For nuclear to become a dominant global power source, the economics of nuclear power must be restored. This can only be done by making nuclear energy intrinsically safer, instead of adding layer on layer of engineered safety systems. Molten salt reactors can achieve this.’ concludes EPD.

Energy Process Developments Ltd was established to conduct a feasibility study for developing a pilot scale molten salt reactor in the UK. They have now published more information regarding their choice of Moltex Energy’s Stable Salt Reactor as the most suitable configuration for immediate pilot scale development.

‘All the designs were found to be valid, which is to say that if adequately funded each proposed design could be expected to lead to a functioning fission reactor with possible routes to commercialisation.’ says EPD.

They chose the Moltex technology due to seen advantages over the other molten salt concepts - namely those of Transatomic Power, ThorCon Power, Terrestrial Energy, Flibe Energy, and Seaborg.These five share a common base technology derived from the ORNL Molten Salt Reactor Experiment in the 1960’s. That technology is to pump molten salt nuclear fuel between a reaction chamber where it achieves critical mass and therefore produces heat, and a heat exchanger where that heat is passed to another fluid and hence used to produce power.

The Moltex Energy concept is, however, fundamentally different. It puts molten salt fuel into fuel tubes and fuel assemblies very similar to those used in all nuclear reactors today. The reason it was not further developed? It relies on natural convection to transfer heat out of the fuel through the tube walls and natural convection could not be relied on for an airplane mounted nuclear reactor – which was what the program was then focused on.

The Moltex technology was essentially chosen because of the different technology approach with its advantages but most importantly, readiness for immediate development and credible claim to be able to meet the cost requirements for massive nuclear expansion, with an independent capital cost estimate comparable to that of a coal fired power station.It has been submitted to the UK government techno-economic assessment of small modular reactors to select which technology will be developed in the UK.

When it comes to the other technologies that were assessed, the EPD team encourages vendors to pursue their various strategies and encourages them to collaborate. ‘Molten salt presents a new fuel cycle and the fastest route to development may be a collaborative one.’ they conclude.

When it comes to thorium as the fuel of choice in molten salt reactors, EPD sees that ‘Thorium, an accessible, radio-actively fertile material, will eventually become the global energy resource of choice when molten salt reactors become industry standard because it will provide a sustainable energy resource for several millennia.’

Read the full paper for insights into EPD’s choice of the Moltex technology here

Read EPD’s full report on the feasibility study, published in August 2015 here

Watch EPD co-founder Rory O’Sullivan present the results of the study at the Thorium Energy Conference in Mumbai in October 2015:

Last updated 3 February, 2016