Funds have been awarded by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, for a feasibility study for the installation of a UK pilot scale Molten Salt Reactor.
Jasper Tomlinson tells us 'Currently we are strengthening our project team and looking for appropriate specialists with commitment to a project of this nature'.
Tremendous knowledge growth in the 60 years of the first nuclear era has not seen substantial advances in nuclear fission technology beyond the PWR, initially a hastily adopted device for military and civil applications, and essentially comprising water cooling of solid fuel elements. The imminent second nuclear era requires introduction of inherently more efficient, safer, cheaper, nuclear fission power obtainable with liquid fuelled – namely Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) - technology the best out of the six Gen IV options, but not currently the option nearest implementation.
A very first step can be seen as the installation and operation of a pilot scale demonstration MSR.
The immediate principal objective for this first step is to enable decision makers, media, and the wider public to become aware of key characteristics of molten salt reactor technology. This proposed demonstration reactor can also provide a test bed for helping develop materials and designs for main components and alternative configurations. It would be available for use as a training platform.
This initial feasibility study will look at alternative available reactor proposals, rank alternatives and identify best options for an appropriate reactor set-up. A principal deliverable is terms of reference for a full engineering design study for the top-ranking configuration. There is no current intention for the study team to design or develop something new, but to uncover what is already there, in the existing liquid-fuelled reactor community. It is not seen as a scientific research project.
At every stage of the expected trajectory to the eventual emergence of industrial implementation of MSR technology, the obstacle of a very rigid regulatory regime is to be found. Especially at the initial stages the actual cost for a one-off design approval and site licence is reckoned in tens of millions of pounds. Even more challenging however is the time-scales of years not months to get the attention needed from the under-staffed agencies. An introductory discussion at the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation has been helpful in defining the issues. The expected costs of the regulatory tasks dwarf any problems that may arise in funding actual installation and operation of a pilot scale reactor.
A realistic starting date at the beginnning of September is expected for an eight-month study. The project team is led by Jasper Tomlinson and Dr Trevor Griffiths and managed by Rory O’Sullivan, all co-owners of the company. This £128,000 study is awarded government funding by the the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board. The company will have to put up about 25% of the refundable costs from their own resources, the Technology Strategy Board provides 75%. It is possible for the follow-up to the study, namely a full engineering design, to be able to start in the Spring of 2015, if funding is available.
Larger context of this project
An insight in 1945 was that a nuclear power plant is a chemical rather than a mechanical device, where reactive materials would be fluid rather than solid. In the 1960s the liquid-fuelled reactor reached beyond proof of concept at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory with the successful Molten Salt Reactor Experiment that ran for several years.
This programme was abandoned by the US Government in favour of plutonium breeding before the next planned step, a prototype for large scale civil MSR power application. In effect, implementation of this original insight was abandoned as not contributing to cold-war military needs. However, in the immediate urgency of the present, this technology needs to be seen as highly innovative, necessary and rewarding.
Energy Process Developments Ltd has this great plan – from a small starting point - so that this technology may form a key part of the rescue for the diminishing UK energy supply and a cornerstone of the estimated £240bn to be invested in the nuclear sector between today and 2025.