Indonesia has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ThorCon to develop thorium molten salt reactors. The resulting Indonesia Thorium Consortium has three partners from the Indonesian side.
Post updated below with an Addendums on (1) [12/08/15], (2) [12/12/15)
The MOU was signed in Washington DC between ThorCon and three Indonesian companies in late October on the occasion of Indonesia President Joko Widodo’s visit to the US which included a meeting with US President Barak Obama. The three firms are;
- PT Industry Nuklir Indonesia (INUKI) is the state-owned nuclear fuel processing company.
- PT PLN is the state-owned power generation company.
- PT Pertamina is the state oil and gas giant which is now looking at nuclear and other forms of energy.
Together these three companies have formed the Indonesia Thorium Consortium whose purpose is to develop and deploy commercially thorium molten salt reactors based on the ThorCon design. The first plant is scheduled to be commissioned in 2021.
- INUKI with its license to import nuclear fuel will provide the thorium and uranium as required to fuel the reactor.
- Pertamina will provide its expertise in moving large scale power projects from cradle to maturity and help navigate the governmental bureaucracy.
- PLN will provide its expertise regarding siting the plant and connecting with the grid. Importantly, PLN will buy the power generated by the reactor.
Why thorium in Indonesia?
Indonesia is the world’s leading producer of tin, and part of the material recovered from tin mining is monazite which contains thorium.
“Indonesia has an abundance of monazite which could last for the next 1000 years, securing Indonesia’s energy supply if the thorium is used as a nuclear fuel”, says Yudiutomo Imardjoko, CEO of the Indonesian Nuclear Company (INUKI).
The country’s National Nuclear Energy Agency estimates that Indonesia has 70,000 tonnes Uranium reserves and 170,000 tonnes Thorium reserves. The estimates do not address whether the reserves are economically recoverable.
There are three features Imardjoko highlights as to why Indonesia chose the molten salt reactor among the different thorium reactor types. He cited passive safety, modularity and cost compared to coal.
“We know that we have to go with a generation IV design which has a passive safety system build into the design. It has to be modular, and compete with coal in term of its economics.”
Fuel type a driver for design choice
The choice, according to Imardjoko, is either a high temperature gas cooled (HTGR) type reactor with a TRISO Fuel or a molten salt reactor (MSR). The HTGR is a complex design and Imardjoko feels the TRISO fuel is too complex for Indonesian firms to manufacture which means it would have to import it.
“The MSR has a simple design, which I think is the simplest design among all the Gen IV reactors. Its fuel is liquid which makes it easy to manufacture and the simplicity of the design makes it very economical to build and to operate – at least on paper the economics could compete with coal,” Imardjoko said in a Thorcon press release.
The MW Molten Salt Reactor will use Sodium Beryllium Fluoride salt dissolving low-enriched uranium and thorium fuel. See the Thorcon design page for technical details.
Indonesia is aiming for thorium energy to become a significant part of the country’s energy mix, thus contributing its share in the efforts against climate change.
“We are not planning to just to build one or two reactors. We are aiming for at least a 20% share of the energy mix by 2050, otherwise we are not addressing the climate change correctly,” Imardjoko said.
Time to market among competing MSR designs is a key factor in choosing the design according to Imardjoko.
“We have reviewed all the MSR designs that are currently being developed and we think that the ThorCon design has the right formula to be able to be deploy in the 4-5 year time frame.”
ThorCon’s owner Martingale’s said its expertise in shipbuilding design enables low-cost, high-precision, scalable manufacturing by shipyards. The firm is betting that mass production of nuclear power plants is possible with ThorCon technology.
Mr. Imardjoko is impressed with the ‘shipyard’ manufacturing concept ThorCon plans to use. He summed up the urgency of increased energy supply in Indonesia.
“It is an elegant design which allows for construction using shipyard techniques. This results in great savings in cost and time. It is a very practical and realistic design allowing for ease of operation and maintenance. The plant is very safe with completely passive shut-down capability. ThorCon just takes the proven ORNL design and scales it up without any new research.”
“ThorCon estimates that an MSR reactor can be manufactured in a year and within 5 years of operation, they believe it can be scaled up, with multiple units, to 5 GW per year. If this is true, it will solve Indonesia’s energy crisis.
He added a sense of urgency saying, “We need to increase the power generation fast to keep up with the rest of the Asean countries which already are above 90% electrification.”
Indonesian government policy changes needed to proceed
Nuclear has been defined as the least preferable clean energy option for Indonesia in the National Energy Policy. However, the government has now realized it cannot meet its energy mix goals with renewable energy sources only. As a result, The Energy Ministry has agreed that nuclear has to take part by 2025.
Changes in legislation and regulation are needed. According to current regulation, only a proven reactor type can be operated commercially as a NPP. The change that would be need is to authorize an unproven or unlicensed type of reactor such as the MSR to be licensed in Indonesia. The process needs to go through an experimental phase with the supervision of the Indonesian Nuclear Agency (BATAN).
Thorcon says it is already in talks with the Indonesia Nuclear Licensing Agency (BAPETEN), which needs to come up with a regulation on how to license an unproven reactor. They have promised to initiate discussions by early next year, which will involve BATAN and The Thorium Consortium.
This is the final piece of regulation in order to have a clear path toward commercialization of the MSR. Mr. Imardjoko said that “hopefully Indonesia will be the first country to operate an MSR NPP.”
Martingale / Thorcon: http://thorconpower.com/
Robert Hargraves: email@example.com Tel: (603) 643 5080
Intl Thorium Energy News: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Is the Thorcon approach feasible?
I have been asked whether I agree with the outlook represented by the developers at Thorcon. I see the following challenges.
First, the general rule of thumb about developing and deploying new reactors, coined by US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover, is that designing nuclear reactors on paper is easy, but building them is hard.
Second, for this reason, and based on the example being set by the TerraPower project in terms of a development timeline for a first of a kind advanced reactor, my view is that that the Thorcon team may be over confident it can deliver a commercial version of its design in five years.
It may have at least 5-10 years of work ahead of it to prove the design works, and safely, to build a prototype, and to convince a customer to place an order for one. Fuel development and qualification alone may consume more time that is expected by the firm.
Third, perhaps the last place you want to do this kind of project is in a developing nation who’s priority requirements are time to market for proven technology for reliable electricity.
Fourth, other shortcomings that I see in the project
- Supply chain issues for first of a kind components
- Engineering and skilled trades shortages
- Immature regulatory capability to do a safety design review of a first of a kind advanced reactor
- Lack of clear boundaries between the government and the vendor
- Development of a large reactor in a country with a limited electric grid
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has a detailed report on Indonesia’s business climate which on the face of it is not favorable to success for a large, technologically complex project. CFR reported that red tape, corruption, and economic nationalism remain significant challenges to business in Indonesia; the country ranked 114 out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s most recent Ease of Doing Business Report.
Comments from readers are welcome.
Note to readers There are multiple thorium-based reactor designs under development. A recent workshop at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee (agenda) (presentations) included discussions by leading nuclear scientists and engineers on their designs, status, and plans for the future.
- Indonesia steps back from nuclear energy
The Jakarta Post reports for the week of 12/12/15 that Indonesia will not resort to nuclear energy to meet its target of 136.7 gigawatt of power capacity by 2025 and 430 gigawatt by 2050, a minister said on Dec 12.
The move means a previous $8-billion plan to operate four nuclear plants with a total capacity of 6 gigawatt by 2025 will be canceled.
“We have arrived at the conclusion that this is not the time to build up nuclear power capacity. We still have many alternatives and we do not need to raise any controversies,” Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said said on Saturday in Banda Aceh.
It is unclear how this policy announcement affects the ThorCon proposal. I’ve reached out to their team for comment and will report back here if they provide a response.
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