A Small Step to Energy Independence

Energy security is a very complex subject and no single technology is the silver bullet but if we really want enduring security for the UK, energy security is critical and one way of achieving that energy security is to reduce reliance of hydrocarbons where those hydrocarbons come from places like the Middle East.

One could argue that energy interdependence with other nations produces a symbiotic relationship between consumer and producer but I think recent events in Eastern Europe might pour water on that theory.

Molten salt reactors are an exciting technology with much promise and the UK Technology Strategy Board approved funding in Summer for a development study.

In an exciting development, a bid to study next-gen Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) has won funding from the Technology Strategy Board, the UK government’s strategic innovation agency. MSRs could be a game-changing way of producing clean electricity, so this is great news for all who support the revival of clean energy R&D to tackle climate change.

The bid was led by the indefatigable Jasper Tomlinson and Professor Trevor Griffiths. In a first for the UK, the project will produce a rigorous desk- and computer-based study of the feasibility of a pilot-scale MSR, based on the latest science.

The TSB’s decision is welcome. This project marks another step in the revitalization of the UK’s next-gen nuclear R&D — although it goes without saying that much more needs to be done.

A good overview of molten salt reactors can be found here and here

Molten Salt Reactor Schematic
Molten Salt Reactor Schematic

The value of the research grant is a whopping £75,000

Compare that to the excess £1.2 billion subsidy paid to the wind sector every year.

Still, small steps and all that.

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The Other Chris
September 30, 2014 10:39 am

Suspect even if the study is favourable that we’d bring in outside developers to construct and operate.

The earnest child in me is still wondering when the Ford Neutron I was promised will arrive considering PWR2/PWR3 are both “dustbin sized”!

Then the grumpy old cynical adult in me interjects.

Growing up is stupid. It’s 2014 [1] where are our flying cars (#5)?

12 predictions Isaac Asimov made about 2014

Simon257
Simon257
September 30, 2014 1:32 pm

The Chinese are really looking at this in a big way, thanks to this 2010 American Scientist article:

http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com/downloads/American_Scientist_Hargraves.pdf

They are planning to have a 2 MW Thorium Reactor running by 2017 and a 10 MW reactor by 2020. Apparently they had by mid-2012 432 people working on the project and that is due to rise to 750 by next year. They are also experimenting with Pebble-bed and plutonium fast-breeder reactors.

China has announced that it intends to patent as much intellectual property on Thorium Reactors as possible. Even though the US pioneered this work at the Oak Ridge facility decades ago.

The Other Chris
September 30, 2014 1:35 pm

China needs to, they have very poor energy resources.

As well as US research, UK has a large number of patents. China can (and does) patent all it wants within its own country.

They’ll also have to trade with India who have the largest Thorium reserves (and mined stockpiles) on the planet.

Rocket Banana
September 30, 2014 1:43 pm

China doesn’t recognise international patents or copyrights.

One of the reasons I’m unlikely to ever do business with them.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights
September 30, 2014 2:20 pm

The other option which links into Chris’ post is “small modular reactors” – instead of a hugely expensive large reactor you have a larger number of lower power reactors. Their size means you can make them in a factory and literally ship them to site on the back of a lorry. Factory production results in lower costs and possible economies of scale the more you build.

Much lower CAPEX requirement (the facilities exist in Sheffield to make them already) and instead of paying EDF to make reactors in France or Hitachi in Japan you keep high value manufacturing jobs in the UK. Designs are available off the shelf from Fluor, NuScale and Westinghouse.

But you’d need a touch more than £75k to set the ball rolling!!

Simon257
Simon257
September 30, 2014 3:00 pm

@ TOC

China are building 8 Coal to Liquid Plants, three are active and the other five are building. The one resource China has is plenty of Coal. Those eight plants will have an initial capacity of 840,000 barrels a day.

@ Thread

If you built a thorium Reactor on a barge and then offered it to an African Country. How much influence would you gain, with a country that is desperate for cheap dependable energy? What if you could offer an entire continent cheap energy? How influential would a country become?

Martin
Editor
September 30, 2014 4:28 pm

I think with the Chinese looking at Molton Salt reactors our resources are better spent else where. The work being done at the University of Huddersfield on the accelerator driven sub critical reactor is probably our best bet for a major contribution in the field of thorium energy.

It speaks volumes about the sad sate of the people in charge of the British government when our own MP’s say hopefully China will invent something we can buy. energy research would be a far better way to spend either our £40 billion defence budget or our £12 billion foreign aid budget.

While I wish the Chinese all the best with their Thorium MSR work its easy to forget that while the US did experiment with such reactors it did shut down the research for valid reasons beyond the need for plutonium from PWR reactors. The technology to effectively operate an MSR with a Thorium breeding blanket has never actually been developed and it is a pretty tricky thing to do.

what would be great is if every major country picked a different type of Thorium reactor to work on. Perhaps then we could really crack the Thorium problem and solve the worlds energy needs for the next few millenniums.

McZ
McZ
September 30, 2014 6:51 pm

The £1.2b (or £1.54 per head per month) paid to the wind energy sector are actually for real capacity, while those few bucks are spent on nothing but paperworks. Nobody can predict energy generation cost for what not even exists. I also can’t see a major British company backing the effort, for quite valid economic reasons.

Until this work gets into a halfway working prototype in 2025 or beyond, we will have, with few effort:
– LNG and hydrogen producing low-cost solar cells for our existing and future fuel cycle
– an installed and running 40GW+ offshore wind capacity
– by reinventing an old wheel a network of small combined heat & power plants
– by continuous investment into energy efficiency, which is the best cost cutting approach available
– to tell nothing about our underdeveloped Biomass sector

The rest will be made up with LNG-driven contingency power plants. Nuclear energy is only a good base loader. Not a too perfect fit.

A 90%+ domestic energy mix, better than any new dependency on not-so-abundant nuclear materiel.

If we really want to have a crucial industry for the 21st century, we would do intensified research on batteries.

monkey
monkey
October 1, 2014 4:13 pm

@TD
“Energy security is a very complex subject and no single technology is the silver bullet”
Very true and I agree with all of McZ’s long term goal.
However a slightly tarnished magic bullet exists in David Cameron’s desk drawers. With an election looming it will stay there but it will be him or his successor who will load that fracking gun and fire it .Just like Obama did it will need a strong leadership and unfortunately without a presidential overrule capacity we they will need a willing parliament to drive an Act of Parliament through to stop it being hung up in the courts and public inquiries and human badgers digging themselves in etc. The UK Gov owns more than enough land to base the initial drill sites on and as it owns all the mineral rights everywhere so can drill to its hearts content. If the calpricks troops can build homemade refineries to produce fuel for their technicals I am sure the Military can drill and produce their own fuel supplies to their hearts content , no more frigates tied up or running at steerage way to save money on fuel or jets grounded to save on JP8.
Thorium power is a lot closer than fusion but still a couple of decades away we need energy independence now with a proven technology feeding into an existing infrastructure at minimum cost and maximum short term profit for investors and the answer is fracking.

wf
wf
October 1, 2014 4:29 pm

@Monkey: Obama did no such thing as encourage fracking. He’s spent the last 6 years denying lots of drilling permits on federal land, the increases in production are down to private drilling. However, we should probably be grateful he hasn’t tried to stop fracking generally, or deny all those planning applications for LNG export terminals….

Jed
Jed
October 1, 2014 5:10 pm
monkey
monkey
October 1, 2014 5:20 pm


Obama has not directly encouraged fracking per se but he pushed various factors which gave it a high priority such as pushing the development and usage of natural gas on the carbon reduction ticket and firmly leaving the drilling licences issuing on non federal land at state level .Obama clearly saw what every previous President before saw that recent US foreign policy since the Seventies was dictated primarily by fossil fuels and maintaining the supply to the US. He however decided that expending $trillons bombing the s**t out of everybody and making enemies everywhere for generations to come to secure overseas supplies was not good business so why not allow a technology developed in the Forties to flourish and end US overseas dependence whilst renewables catch up. My view is the opposite ,it is ‘federal’ land where our government could start the barrel rolling.
http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/221395-obama-signs-order-establishing-natural-gas-task-force

Dan R
Dan R
October 4, 2014 12:36 am

I’m sure somewhere there is a nuclear board where they are having a debate on how disappointing FRES is and how an unmanned wheeled vehicle they saw in giz mag would be the best option :-)

The big issue with nuclear is money, the plants are too expensive. They are too expensive due to regulation and choosing to build and finance them in an inefficient manner.

The principal cost of nuclear power generation is the cost associated with building and financing the plant.

What fuel goes in it is fairly irrelevant to the cost as is it’s proliferation resistance as nobody has ever covertly diverted civilian nuclear materials into a weapons programme because it’s always easier to just have a specific nuclear weapons programme. Waste and decommissioning a fairly trivial problem from a financial point of view for new plants. Don’t get me started on safety…..

In short most of these “new” plants are not solving the real problems associated with nuclear power, some may claim that their design of plant will be cheaper to build….. they won’t be because they will be untried technology you will have to go through numerous iterations and learning experiences. This effectively means somebody has to be willing to put down the best part of 10 billion to get the possibility of an incremental improvement in a market where there is no guarantee that you will sell a single product.

There may be some millage in the small modular reactor concept in that they use relatively tried and tested materials and chemistry. The objective being that you knock them out on a production line and they become cheaper as economies of scale happen. Unfortunately you have to reach a point where there is a large market before this happens.

What it all comes down to is that if you want advanced nuclear plants you need to start building nuclear plants first. Once you do that then you can start improving the design incrementally. Anything which doesn’t address this issue is a diversion.

Where we have gone wrong in the UK is that we are obsessed with a market solution for nuclear. Then we start trying to engineer the market to give a nuclear solution.

What the government should have done is tendered for at least 6 plants of identical design. With strong emphasis on bringing the plant design to the UK. The government (or the oil super majors) are the only people who can put down a commitment like that and they can borrow much more cheaply than private industry.

Then once the plants are built they could simply lease them out private industry. In all likelihood they would probably make a profit (in the long term) as the government isn’t actually bad at infrastructure projects now.

Also please remember the people who support either fusion or thorium/molten salt will frequently bring up how their viewpoint is supported by a great physicist. How much weight would you give to Stephen Hawkings views on defence policy………

Dan R
Dan R
October 4, 2014 10:02 am

The big issue with nuclear is money, the plants are too expensive. They are too expensive due to regulation and choosing to build and finance them in an inefficient manner.

The principal cost of nuclear power generation is the cost associated with building and financing the plant.

What fuel goes in it is fairly irrelevant to the cost as is it’s proliferation resistance as nobody has ever covertly diverted civilian nuclear materials into a weapons programme because it’s always easier to just have a specific nuclear weapons programme. Waste and decommissioning a fairly trivial problem from a financial point of view for new plants. Don’t get me started on safety…..

In short most of these “new” plants are not solving the real problems associated with nuclear power, some may claim that their design of plant will be cheaper to build….. they won’t be because they will be untried technology you will have to go through numerous iterations and learning experiences. This effectively means somebody has to be willing to put down the best part of 10 billion to get the possibility of an incremental improvement in a market where there is no guarantee that you will sell a single product.

There may be some millage in the small modular reactor concept in that they use relatively tried and tested materials and chemistry. The objective being that you knock them out on a production line and they become cheaper as economies of scale happen. Unfortunately you have to reach a point where there is a large market before this happens.

What it all comes down to is that if you want advanced nuclear plants you need to start building nuclear plants first. Once you do that then you can start improving the design incrementally. Anything which doesn’t address this issue is a diversion.

Where we have gone wrong in the UK is that we are obsessed with a market solution for nuclear. Then we start trying to engineer the market to give a nuclear solution.

What the government should have done is tendered for at least 6 plants of identical design. With strong emphasis on bringing the plant design to the UK. The government (or the oil super majors) are the only people who can put down a commitment like that and they can borrow much more cheaply than private industry.

Then once the plants are built they could simply lease them out private industry. In all likelihood they would probably make a profit (in the long term) as the government isn’t actually bad at infrastructure projects now.

Also please remember the people who support either fusion or thorium/molten salt will frequently bring up how their viewpoint is supported by a great physicist. How much weight would you give to Stephen Hawkings views on defence policy………

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 4, 2014 1:08 pm

I stand by an earlier rant that a fleet of shore based PWR3 would be a good first step. The bulk of it would be built in Britain. There would be commonality with future RN submarines. You would have a pool of people who had knowledge useful to the RN & civil nuclear power. You could have a small state owned energy company to provide genuine competition to the big private (foreign state owned) energy firms.

Mickp
Mickp
October 4, 2014 3:01 pm

@JH, what could a PWR3 power in ‘population centre’ terms, a village, a small town?

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 4, 2014 3:36 pm

The idea with small reactors, is to build them in clusters. Probably 3 together. Also helps spread the cost i.e. build one, get it running, use the money from its electricity to build the next & so on.

as
as
October 4, 2014 4:20 pm

Is someone at Think going to do an article on using envirotec on vehicles to give the increase range ect.
I know the US has experimented with hybrid trucks. Very expensive for not much gain so far anyway.

Nuclear is defiantly the way to go for energy independence. Though you need a supplier of the uranium (ours comes from Australia I believe) so even that is completely independent. We can the use these plants to make hydrogen and power everything that is off grid with fuel calls.

Nuclear and Hydrogen is are future now we just have to get the government to stop pandering to the hemp flip flop brigade.
The Germens are using fuel cells on there subs so the tech is here and working.

Jonathan
Jonathan
October 4, 2014 6:16 pm

None of our present energy solutions are very viable. Our energy needs are just going up and there is no realistic option of changing the curve.

Burning Coal/oil/gas to the level needed will cook the planet, the 4 to 6 degree global warming risk assessment is nasty beyond belief.

Solar/wind are unreliable, expensive and can’t provide on scale

Geo and wave is reliable but geography dependent and costly as it comes, with some nasty environmental impact( wave).

Nuclear is disaster prone, expensive as hell, does nasty things to the environment and tends to piss off the next generation who get all the decommissioning issues.

Bio fuel just eats into food production.

In truth our only option is a race to find a workable, economic technological edges like fusion.

http://www.efda.org/

The Other Chris
October 4, 2014 7:03 pm

Energy demand in the UK has been steadily falling. We’re getting more efficient.

It’s due to pick up again in 2025-2026 timeframe, when the current efficiency projects become unable to eliminate population and industry growth.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/358135/Updated_energy_and_emissions_projections_2014.pdf

The PWR2 reactor in the Astutes supposedly supply 20MW. That’s 10,000 homes at a baseline power level. UK peaks will halve that (end of Eastenders, Christmas Day from 12:00, FA Cup half-time and full-time whistles, etc) necessitating a fast spin-up technology to cope with the change. Hydro is the favoured option for power controllers if available as their rapid on/off nature makes maintaining 50Hz far easier.

Dan R
Dan R
October 5, 2014 12:15 am

The PWR3 would be a terrible idea as a small power reactor.

Submarine reactors are designed to make submarines go, important things include resistance to external threats like depth charges, being quiet, fitting in a tight pressure hull, quick throttle responses, operating with the crew only feet away, having maximum power per volume. Refuelling is not a standard practice and the sub spends most of its life at dockside, when it is operating it spends most of its time going slow.

Literally everything would be different in detail to a civil power reactor even one of comparable shaft power. It would be cheaper and an altogether a better idea to start from scratch.

To put this into context an EJ200 and heavy frame combined cycle gas turbine probably have as much in common.

http://www.dlr.de/blogs/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-6192/10184_read-255/

monkey
monkey
October 5, 2014 11:57 am

The new nukes we are going to build are I believe of the latest generation of the French PWR the EPR the largest so far. This is the fourth evolution of the design growing in output and sophistication in incremental steps and taking onboard all the lessons learnt from Fuckupshima . There are two in construction in China and one in Finland and France proposes to replace its entire 58 reactors’ with this design . France regularly produces over 75% of its electricity allready with nuclear (upto 84% ) and uses some of that spare capacity to cope with peak demands,the only nation that has learnt how to do this while energy is diverted or imported in from the surrounding nations grids , not a luxury we have to any great extent. China proposes to build hundreds of this design and they and the French are selling a common reactor design hard across the world to get those production numbers up to get costs down. I worked briefly on Heysham 1 and 2. Two was a copy of Dungeness B started years later but brought on line at around the time as the lessons learnt on Dungeness were applied before they relevant sections were built at Heysham.The same should apply to the French design

monkey
monkey
October 5, 2014 2:08 pm

Edit
Read Hinckley Point B for Dungeness B, it was a long time ago

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 7, 2014 11:54 am

Re PWR 3. Look at car engines. Land Rover & Jaguar may share the same basic engine to share costs, but there will be slight changes between them. The Land Rover version will be tested & adapted for deep wading, extreme off road angles, etc, while the Jag version would be tested for high speed autobahn running & track days. Do the same with PWR3. Have enough in common for economies of scale, but allow small changes to allow for the different conditions. For example, a land version does not have the size constraints that a submarine hull does. Yesterday the Express said” Two years ago a million homes were spared from a blackout only by firing up the mothballed Fawley oil-burning station in Hampshire. It won’t be there this winter – decommissioned thanks to an EU directive”.

The Other Chris
October 8, 2014 10:20 am

“A new £16bn nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset is to go ahead after it received final approval from European Union regulators.

The European Commission said Britain had agreed to “modify significantly” the financing for the project, reducing the burden on British taxpayers.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29536793

Nick
Nick
October 8, 2014 11:15 am

The Other Chris

I take your point about energy saving, but there is still probably a lot more that can be done than is in the plans. For example, converting ALL traditional and Halogen lighting to LED, adding motion sensors and light metering systems to ensure that lights (offices esp) are only on when actually needed and ensuring more energy efficient buildings for new designs etc isn’t hard to do (or particularly expensive). That’s before you get to other relatively cheap things like double glazing, proper insulation, eliminating drafts etc etc.

A couple of game changers, might be:

finding a way to role out heat exchanger technology to reuse waste heat produced by home and commercial heating systems to contribute to lower energy usage.

Although solar electricity generation isn’t likely to be a big deal in the UK for a while, I think there is scope of using solar energy more than we do. Having roofing and building materials that trap IR (in lofts or insulated walling for example) to heat cold water to ambient temperature in would work to reduce energy usage generating hot water for washing considerably.

All these small things add up and if thought about in terms of a longish period to reach break-even point, the sheer scale effect will make a significant difference at a national level.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 15, 2014 9:15 pm

The Guardian is reporting that Lockheed Martin has made a breakthrough in small nuclear fusion plants. 100 MW , fits on the back of a truck, could power a surface ship. Looking to build a prototype in a year, production version within a decade. Looking for partners. I would nominate Culham & RR.