It has been two years since the Thorium Initiatives was launched in Indonesia back in 2015 with a Seminar called “The Utilization of Thorium as The Energy Source to Achieve Energy Security”, held by The Coordinating Ministry of Maritime.
Even though the ThorCon proposal gives many benefits to the Indonesian economy and could make Indonesia a center of excellence for advanced nuclear, the technology had to be further investigated and confirmed.
A special advisory council attached to the office of President Joko Widowo (The National Committee on Economic and Industries (KEIN)) treats it as a strategic issue that requires special attention. The committee appointed Zulnahar Usman, head of the Energy & Resources working group, to investigate and learn directly from two prominent US nuclear laboratories, Argonne and Oak Ridge, if the Molten Salt Reactor and ThorCon’s technology, in particular, is viable, safe and ready to be built.
After a week of meetings and discussions with Argonne, Oak Ridge and an ORNL retiree that worked on the MSRE back in the 60’s, Mr. Usman stated:
“We are convinced that the MSR is a viable technology and that the ThorCon Thorium MSR technology can be an important addition to Indonesia’s energy mix. The committee is going to recommend that the Government of Indonesia should immediately take a progressive policy in this matter to the benefit of the society and the nation.”
Zulnahar Usman, head of the Energy & Resources working group
The delegation was most impressed by the enhanced safety features and low cost of the ThorCon design . According to David Devanney, CEO of ThorCon International, ThorCon's price is in the range of 6 to 7 cents/kWh for the life of the Power Purchase Agreement, which is lower than the Indonesian national average of electricity production cost.
Before returning to Indonesia, the delegation was also received by the Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy US DOE, Edward McGinnis. Mr Usman informed him that Indonesia is preparing to go nuclear and the Indonesian government is considering an advanced reactor design. Among the alternatives is the ThorCon proposal. Mr Usman is requesting that the US DOE could give Indonesia technical and political support through an MOU with KEIN. Details of the working plan will be outlined in further discussions.
On November 3rd, The Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Resources held a meeting, which was chaired by Deputy Minister of Energy, Arcandra Tahar, to discuss the country's Nuclear roadmap. According to some sources attending the meeting, the discussion boiled down to three important issues, namely proven vs. unproven, price and time table.
Firstly, should one choose a commercially proven reactor that is expensive (think LWR) or a reactor that is not commercially proven but is cheap, like the ThorCon design? After a long debate the deputy minister concluded that cheap electricity is far more important for the country.
President Joko Widodo has always said that Indonesia is over-regulated, and that regulation should not obstruct progress, which could benefit the society. The President regards innovation as the key to making Indonesia a great Nation.
Minister Arcandra, considering the President’s policy, said that regulation can be changed to accommodate an unproven or innovative reactor as long as it does not compromise safety. Most importantly, the investment has to be 100% private, moving the risk away from the government.
PLN, the state utility company was asked to give a price it is willing to pay for nuclear electricity. Without hesitation, PLN's answer was “under 7 cent per kWh”. Who can compete with ThorCon's Power Purchase Offer? In the end, what use is nuclear if it has to be subsidized? It must be able to replace coal at the end of the day.
Due to the need to electrify the economy and the National Development Plan Law, it has been agreed that the first commercial nuclear power plant should start operation in the time frame 2025–2027.
ThorCon’s first round of funding has just been achieved. One of the investors, Dr. Gary Bergstrom, the founder of Acadian Asset Management, states “I was impressed by the extraordinary engineering abilities of the team as well as the project’s potential to make a dent in the climate change problem. Over my career I have been extensively involved with investing in emerging economies and I believe that many are promising markets for ThorCon's clean, non-intermittent, and low cost (under 7 cents/kWh) electric power. It also offers dramatic benefits in facility placement options and safety versus other alternatives."
With these developments, funding, the Committee’s fruitful trip to the U.S. and the Deputy Minister’s acknowledgement of the importance of cheap and clean electricity for the economy, Indonesia now has the potential to end the nuclear debate and open up a clear sight toward the finish line for ThorCon to build and operate commercially in Indonesia before 2025.