Hugh MacDiarmid for Terrestrial Energy, Inc. (TEI) gave his first talk as Chairman of the Board. He was recently appointed and asked to speak for The Economic Club of Canada in Toronto, Wednesday, September 24, 2014 His talks titled NUCLEAR: THE INNOVATION IMPERATIVE seems a perfect title during the same week of the UN (Climate) Summit in New York and the 400,000 marchers against climate change. What an imperative – to not only bring a much needed innovation to the marketplace but prepare the way for competitors to also emerge when zero carbon emitting energy is so desperately needed.
The recent talk last week at the One King West Hotel had a strong showing from the nuclear energy industry. The room was buzzing with several key players who are all very familiar with Hugh MacDiarmid the speaker. His former role as AECL’s CEO was most likely part of the reason for the good turnout. That and the fact that a new nuclear company emerging on the scene is a very rare occurrence, especially in Canada.
After a very slow 40 years where new reactors undergo years of review and microscopic evaluation a nuclear company emerging is a big deal anywhere. This new comparatively small player seems dwarfed compared to the large corporations who have the deep pockets to handle the high costs associated with licensing and bringing new reactors to market. Almost a year ago cancellation of a proposed new nuclear unit at Darlington was a disappointment to many and that cancellation was announced the day after another Future of Nuclear Conference in Toronto last October 2013 where many present had hopes of being involved in the new plant after all a new nuclear unit generates a lot of jobs. But the community is grateful that Ontario has enough activity in the area of nuclear refurbishments.
Hugh spoke well and kept his audience attentive giving more hints about what the Integral Molten Salt Reactor, TEI’s baby, would include . And a baby it is in size but with a powerful output, a roaring mouse so to speak. More on that later. Also present from the Terrestrial colleagues were President and inventor David LeBlanc, the architect and visionary plus the majority of their team Simon Irish, Paul McIntosh, Chris Popoff, Canon Bryan, Rob Bodner, John Kutsch, Louis Plowden-Wardlaw and Nabila Yousef.
The energy innovation was suppose to have been here by now and it’s absence makes it an innovation imperative because the current reactors are still not winning the public’s confidence. The US planned 1000 reactors to be built by 1984 but only made it to 104 and in the last few years has dropped slightly due to three shutdowns. The forces against nuclear are mostly a culture of fear. But the newer fear we see as climate change is already underway and has started a trail of destruction. That alone may bring back nuclear energy.
Old reactors are being shutdown and others too because natural gas is currently cheaper than nuclear. It is an unfortunate outcome of the controversial low cost method of fracking for natural gas. But a low cost innovation is important. Low cost and accessible energy supply are linked to living standards and the quality of life. Robert Hargraves who wrote Thorium: Energy cheaper than coal – writes and speaks about how energy, which he says allows prosperity – and that allows for education – and education allows for a lower birthrate. So again the imperative to provide clean energy is paramount. What good is prosperity if we have unbearable living conditions. So this kind of reactor will replace coal very nicely.
“Higher standards of living make appliances and devices more affordable; emerging nations are craving all the gadgets and conveniences of the developed world.”
Hugh stated “… Canada, our per capita electricity consumption is over double the OECD average and 9 ½ times the non OECD world.” To support his point staggering statistics on 3rd world growth from Mark Lynas’s book Nuclear 2.0 states that Indonesia increased their electricity consumption by 79% in this century’s first decade. Bangladesh 150%. Vietnam 261% and between 1990 and 2010 the world economy tripled. China has sustained 9% annual growth for 30 years bringing 400 million out of poverty. But China also produces 25% of the planet’s CO2 and uses half the world’s coal. The staggering economic growth of places like China, Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam and India all need energy and their easiest choice is the dirtiest and that is coal. We know the emissions kill and we know life on our planet is being affected by more than just the fly ash. The emissions can only be stopped by replacing those coal plants with a zero carbon emitting source. So the significance of it being imperative is an understatement. Introducing an advanced reactor that wins public approval is vital. Later Hugh MacDiarmid stated about the design process that “The challenge is immense but is outweighed by the importance.” But somehow, knowing that the design borrows from already tested prototypes from back in the 1960s and 70s brings confidence that it will happen.
More from Hugh’s talk:
“Natural gas is certainly the current favourite in North America, but cracks are starting to appear in the hydraulic fracturing story in terms of depletion rates and environmental opposition, making a bet on natural gas today highly risky in terms of long term fuel cost.”
“In Canada, we are blessed with massive hydroelectric resources, but most observers feel we are approaching the limits of exploiting the available footprint.”
He also stated he had no objections to wind and solar. Although they do benefit from government policies to subsidies that “there is no evidence of competitive cost or scalability, there simply isn’t enough land or enough sunny days or grid flexibility to accommodate supply intermittency. There is no evidence that renewables can make the BIG difference to the BIG energy problem we have.”
He also said innovation will help win over public perception. “The response of conventional nuclear has been the introduction of Small Modular Reactors. It is clear, though, that something is missing from that formula when we see deferrals and cancellations of key programs. I am not here to bash today’s nuclear technology. Much more can be accomplished and surely many more Gen III+ reactors will be built, including Candus. At the same time, it is clear that today’s nuclear industry has not cracked the code on social acceptability, due to safety and waste management concerns, and has not earned the confidence of the financial markets due to costs being both high and uncertain.”
He narrowed down the key area that the innovation is needed and satisfied by the IMSR
Four core criteria:
- practicality, and
- environmental stewardship.
“Truly disruptive innovation will make a difference on all four dimensions. While the West talks of energy efficiency, the developing world talks of energy scalability and cost.”
He was also playing modest when he said “the IMSR, could be one of the answers to this supply gap – surely not the only answer; we’re not so ambitious as to say that we will take over the world – but we do think there are good and solid reasons that this laboratory proven Gen IV technology will grab a significant foothold in the markets of the future. We also think that future may arrive sooner than you expect. I want to explain why I think this is the case. “
“At Terrestrial Energy, we believe we can change the way the world thinks about nuclear energy. We believe that molten salt reactors in general, and our Integral Molten Salt Reactor in particular, offer answers to the most challenging questions surrounding nuclear energy today; and that, with those questions addressed, we can begin to realize the inherent potential of nuclear as carbon free, highly reliable, low lifetime cost power. “
“We know that the MSR works in a lab; this was demonstrated very clearly at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a number of years. But it must work in the environment of private industry, where regulations, costs and commercial considerations drive decisions. It needs to be manufactured with materials from existing supply chains. It needs to be fueled with currently available nuclear fuels. It needs to be built for market needs and not become a science project to showcase a concept. In short, it needs to pass the test of commercial viability – and we believe our IMSR does pass that test.”
“One key innovation is the integration of primary reactor components (the moderator, primary heat exchanger and pumps) into a sealed reactor vessel within a compact and replaceable module, the IMSR Core unit. The replaceable core unit concept, unlike any other reactor design, leads to the properties that create high industrial value: passive safety, operational simplicity, and lower cost.”
“We have chosen graphite as the moderator.” David LeBlanc answered a question about the Wigner Effect using graphite. This common criticism comes up a lot but apparently the effect only happens at significantly lower temperatures than the normal IMSR levels. Hugh said “Graphite has a limited life in a reactor core, as I’m sure many in the audience know. However, this is not principally a technology issue but an economic one. The question is, “Can the capital value of a sealed and replaceable vessel, with primary components, including its graphite moderator, be recovered over its limited life at current energy prices?” From our estimates, the answer is yes. It is handsomely recovered over the seven year operational life that we estimate for the IMSR Core unit.”
For clarification the core unit is the vessel, graphite and primary heat exchangers combined. That is replaced as a unit. It runs for 7 years the sits in the same silo for another 7 years shut off while the adjacent unit takes over. So at the 14 year mark it is lifted out and moved to long term storage. This cycle repeats for many decades.
He then listed the economic advantages
- low capital costs and low operating costs
- overnight capital costs comparable to a fossil fuel power plant
- operating costs that are a fraction of conventional nuclear.
- Uranium consumption per kilowatt hour will be one sixth of Conventional Nuclear.
“Our estimates indicate that the IMSR will demonstrate the lowest lifetime cost of energy of any known technology, and by some margin. “
“The IMSR meets the accepted definition of a small modular reactor. Its components, most importantly the IMSR Core unit, are modular and transportable.”
“They can be manufactured at a central production facility and can be transported to plant site on a flat bed truck or by railcar. “
In case you thought this reactor was only meant for small applications:
“…the IMSR technology is scalable, though, so our vision includes larger reactor designs that will be sized to meet the needs of both power generation and industrial process heat applications. “
“Think oil sands. Think mining. Think desalination. Think petrochemicals, potash and ammonia production. “
Passive safety and Viable Waste Management.
He stated that the IMSR like all MSRs are an entirely different reactor system and have fundamentally different risk profiles.
Since they are much more safe by design and “display excellent natural properties for decay heat management” they “have designed the IMSR to make the most of these properties.”
“As such, the IMSR offers the possibility of passive safety rather than engineered safety – the IMSR design offers a “walk away safe” level of assurance: zero operator intervention, even with a total loss of site power.”
“The IMSR has a much smaller and relatively short lived waste footprint. It burns its nuclear fuel far more completely and generates power with higher thermodynamic efficiency than solid fuel reactors.”
“Together this leads to creation of only one sixth of the long lived Transuranic fuel waste (essentially, plutonium) per kilowatt hour compared to the nuclear plants we have today. As those in the industry know very well, it is the long term management of Transuranic fuel waste that is the most vexing waste management problem today – and we believe we address it convincingly.”
“IMSR spent fuel recycling, which we believe will be commercially viable and achievable before 2030, offers the prospect of virtually no long term Transuranic fuel waste from IMSR power generation. This future prospect simply does not exist for today’s reactor systems that use solid fuels. “
He goes on to say that this alone could become the sole purpose for one of the businesses that could spring up.
“Although we have chosen to use low enriched uranium as a fuel, we also have the possibility of using existing spent nuclear fuel as an IMSR fuel source – this is a branch of the waste disposal business with extraordinary “tipping–fees” and could be an interesting business by itself. For us, spent nuclear fuel is an attractive fuel source.”
There was a moment when he showed the small size of a possible 600 MWatt IMSR reactor next to larger but lower outputs of competing companies and it indicated that this reactor is going to be something special.
Low costs due to atmospheric pressure
Versatile since it can “access new industrial markets…key to our commercialization strategy.”
“The higher outlet temperature opens up many new industrial applications that are not viable for conventional nuclear. We believe that the industrial heat market could become even larger for the IMSR than power generation.”
• lowest lifetime cost;
• high passive safety;
• use in industrial process heat markets, not just power;
• small plant footprints;
• grid and water independence, and;
• a dramatic reduction in the magnitude, toxicity and longevity of the waste stream.
His last point was about the opportunity for Canada’s nuclear community. “We want to be the home country of the Molten Salt Reactor wave. We intend to design and license our technology right here in Canada. We intend to build the first demonstration unit in Canada. We expect to build industrial partnerships in Canada that will create new business opportunities for us all. We can build a very robust export oriented business model that will be a source of pride for all Canadians.”
“We have completed our Pre Conceptual Design Report – the essential first step – and are gearing up our team to engage with CNSC staff. We want to build our first demonstration unit, an 80 megawatt thermal reactor, in Canada. A key activity in our next phase of operations is to identify the best site and to establish a working partnership to launch the site license application process.”
“Very importantly, we want to build a Canadian supply chain. We fully expect that our manufacturing facility will be in this country. We believe that the Canadian nuclear supply community has all the capabilities we need to be world class. We will locate our headquarters for the design team in Canada in a location that affords us access to the best engineering talent we can find. Last, but not least, we will raise our investment capital as a Canadian based company and hope that we will find strong investor interest in this country to make it truly a “made in Canada” success story.
“Lastly, I also want to acknowledge the role of Henry Vehovec of Mindfirst and his Future of Nuclear initiative in connecting me to Terrestrial Energy. At one of Henry’s events late last year, I ran into Rob Bodner, a former AECL colleague, and he pointed me toward Terrestrial. Rob has now put his money where his mouth is by joining our team. The network does work.” By the way I, Rick Maltese, was also present at the same seminar and mentioned TEI a couple times and raised the point about a need for Canada’s own SMR. Can I take a little credit?
See the Talk Here
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