US-based nuclear company Thorcon International and Indonesia’s Defence Ministry have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU)  to study developing a thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR) for either power generation or marine vehicle propulsion. The MOU was signed by the head of ministry’s Defence Research and Development Agency, Dr Anne Kusmayati, and ThorCon International Chief Representative Bob S Effendi.

Dr Kusmayati said in a written statement on 24 July thorium-based power development at the Ministry of Defence was in line with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. "The thorium-based power development research and development in the Defence Research and Development Agency is in line with the policy of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources which mandates the need for concrete steps to prepare nuclear power development projects, bearing in mind dwindling fossil energy sources and the length of time needed to construct a  nuclear power plant."

The statement added: "So the thorium-based power development research programme that began in FY 2019 and will last until the Strategic Planning (Strategic Planning) 2020-2024 and may continue represents the Ministry of Defence's efforts to be the initiator or lever in mastering 4th generation nuclear technology that utilises thorium, which is available in abundance in Indonesia."

Thorcon said on 24 July it would provide technical support to the ministry’s research and development (R&D) body to develop “a small-scale TMSR reactor under 50 megawatts (MW)". [This will] strengthen national security in the outermost, frontier and least developed regions,” the company's statement said.

However, National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan) director Dandang Purwadi told The Jakarta Post earlier this year that thorium nuclear technology is not yet ready for commercial application. “We have to wait around 10 years for the technology to mature, then it takes 10 years to build the facility”, he said.

ThorCon says on its website that it has been working with the Indonesian government to add reliable electric power to the grid. “In 2019 the Ministry of Energy successfully completed a study of the safety, economics, and grid impact of the 500 MW prototype ThorConIsle. Phase 1 is to build and test it with step by step commissioning, ending in a type licence for future power plants. Phase 2 is shipyard production of ThorCon plants to provide an additional 3 GW of cheap, reliable electric power.  

Thorcon says much of the design phase has been completed, computationally modelled, expressed in 2D drawings and 3D CAD models, and shared with potential suppliers. The company will build a pre-fission test facility (PTF) at full scale, including the components of the fission island and the thermal power conversion chain. The fuel salt will not contain enriched uranium and will not sustain a chain reaction to generate power. The components will be brought up to operating temperatures using electric heating. The absence of radioactivity allows intrusive instrumentation, direct observation, and internal access to components.

The 500 MW power plant will be built in a world-class shipyard experienced in high-quality, cost-competitive steel-working. ThorCon said it will will rely on the yard for detailed design outside the Can, production scheduling, and much of the equipment purchasing functions. The shipyard will be ThorCon’s EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) contractor. The expensive, massive, precision supercritical steam turbine-generator must be pre-ordered to achieve the one-year shipyard build time. ThorCon will be towed to the Indonesia near-shore site prepared with breakwaters and seawater cooling piping and a connection to the PLN electric power grid.

The testing protocols developed with the PTF will first guide similar pre-fission testing of ThorCon. Working closely with Indonesia’s nuclear regulator (Bapeten) and expert test approvals committee (TAP), ThorCon engineers will proceed with step by step commissioning, fueling the plant, bringing the reactor to zero-power criticality, then increasing power levels as testing confirms safe, effective power generation

When testing is successfully completed, the company expects Indonesia’s Bapeten regulator to refine its regulations and issue a type license citing the design is safe for similar future power plants. Indonesia’s PLN will sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the company, which will build, install, and operate 3 GW of additional ThorCon power plants. The PPA will enable financing with traditional loans. As these plants are put into operation the company expects world-wide orders for such shipyard-constructed power plants that deliver nonstop electric energy cheaper than coal.

Date: Saturday, 01 August 2020
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