Tuesday, March 09, 2010

High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor Boost

The US DOE awarded $40 million to General Atomics and Westinghouse for conceptual designs of High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors (HTGR) to be completed by August 2011. These next generation designs will be safer, more economical, more efficient, and have a wider range of uses. The first economic use of HTGRs may be to provide "process heat" for the extraction and refining of oil and unconventional fossil fuels.
The process heat niche takes some of the competitive pressure off NGNP since the two LWR designs most likely to get to market in the next five-to-ten years are targeting electricity generation. The size of the NGNP suggests it would not be suited for off-the-grid applications since it would be difficult to transport its components to such sites. This leaves large petro-chemical plants that have both the water access for barges and the need for 600 MW (thermal) of process heat.

The best case scenario for payback to process heat customers for a commercial version of the reactor looks like this. Assume a member of the NGNP Alliance burns 1 million barrels of oil/day at $70/barrel. That's a daily cost of $70 million. Every 30 days it burns $2.1 billion in crude oil for process heat and over 300 days it burns $21 billion.

If a new 300 MW high temperature gas-cooled reactor costs $3,500/Kw, or $1.05 billion, the payback occurs in the first or second year assuming all the oil used for process heat is eventually swapped out for heat from the reactor. The actual payback will be much longer due to the need to amortize R&D, NRC licensing, and start-up costs, which could be an additional $3 billion. Also, the plant would have to reconfigure steam lines and control systems to deliver heat from reactor instead of fossil fueled boilers. _EnergyCollective
It will require a different psychology to see nuclear reactors as "heat generators" more than "power generators", but then heat has always been the primary product of commercial fission reactors.

Western civilisation needs 20 to 30 more years of high quantity production of fossil fuels. If nuclear reactors can facilitate that production, they will have done a significant part in transitioning to a cleaner energy future.

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