Terrestrial Energy Inc. (TEI) announced that it has entered into an initial collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) less than a month after announcing entering into a Letter of Intent with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).

The Letter of Intent is for the provision of research and development services on commercial terms to TEI by CNL on various areas for the company’s Integrated Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR).

The ORNL announcement is about a collaboration with ORNL. This includes work that is part of TEI’s program to advance the company’s IMSR to the engineering blueprint stage, expected in late 2016. ORNL is the site of the original Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), where a 7.4 MW thermal test reactor operated successfully from 1965 to 1969. TEI’s basic concept builds upon the MSRE operational data generated and then further builds upon ORNL’s Denatured Molten Salt Reactor (DMSR) design, which is the basis of Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR.

The Canadian connection brings far more to the table for making progress. With over 3,400 highly-trained employees, researchers and engineers, CNL has been at the forefront of innovation since its creation over 60 years ago. It was here that Canada developed the CANDU heavy water power reactors in the 1950s, and the first operating reactor outside of the USA. Today, there are 48 heavy water power reactors operating around the world in various design configurations.

TEI’s CEO Simon Irish said, “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology organization and has a rich history at the cutting edge of nuclear science and technology internationally. TEI’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor development can benefit greatly from CNL’s deep expertise. As TEI commences the next phase of IMSR development, this Letter of Intent expresses the Company’s intent to engage contractually with the world’s top nuclear laboratories.”

The TEI IMSR is different in its design that the whole reactor unit is moveable, replaceable and recyclable in both the reactor and the fuel. REI is going for the lowest possible cost thermal power production.

TEI IMSR Section View.  Image Credit TEI.  Click Image for the largest view.

TEI IMSR Section View. Image Credit TEI. Click Image for the largest view.

The IMSR first-of-a-kind reactors will be constructed in a variety of power outputs, from the very small, 30 Mw electric or smaller, up to 300 MWe and larger still. IMSRs can also be arrayed in a multi-unit facility for greater output if necessary. IMSRs are modular and designed to have very small land footprints. The IMSR can be manufactured with material readily available in today’s industrial supply chains, with methods common in modern factory production and in high unit volume. The IMSR can be shipped to a power plant located at point-of-demand via flatbed truck or rail car.

TEI IMSR Plant View. Image Credit TEI.  Click Image for the largest view.

TEI IMSR Plant View. Image Credit TEI. Click Image for the largest view.

The IMSR allows many fission products to be removed continuously and in-situ. The fission products simply vent from the salt and are captured by the IMSR. Thus, even without any reprocessing of the waste IMSR liquid fuel, the IMSR is far more efficient. In fact, the IMSR is six times as efficient as a conventional nuclear reactor – an IMSR power station is expected to leave less 1/3rd less fission product waste and far less plutonium waste. Work is underway to develop processes to remove all fission products and leave zero plutonium that can be added to the basic IMSR for the achievement of near zero waste.

TEI believes that both online and centralized reprocessing of IMSR waste fuel are highly viable and will become standard for the next generation of IMSR power plants, possibly by the end of the next decade. It is also likely that this attribute sealed the deal with the Canadians.

The way TEI stands different from most of the other MSR firms comes in two business model conditions. TEI intentionally avoids two objectives, using thorium-based fuels, and to “breed” fuel in an MSR-Breeder reactor. There are two very persuasive reasons. additional technical and regulatory complexities.

For now thorium is not currently licensed as a fuel . Liquid thorium fuels are the nuclear fuel equivalent of wet wood. Wet wood cannot be lit with just a match so to speak; it requires a large torch. That large torch must come in the form of, for example, highly enriched uranium. Such a torch has no regulatory precedent in civilian nuclear power. That is a mountain worth avoiding. The thorium fuel cycle would require its own involved regulatory process to become licensed for use on a wide commercial basis. The liquid uranium fuel of an IMSR can be lit easily, it is dry tinder to start.

The TEI IMSR will use Low Enriched Uranium, or Slightly Enriched Uranium, each of which are broadly available, and have a long regulatory history and a long-established supply chain. The only difference is that the fuel will be in a liquid form and not solid, meaning that far less fabrication will be required. Uranium fuel is licensed, it is in common use, its fuel cycle is widely understood, and it can be supplied as fuel through an existing industrial chain.

The other thing they avoid is the breeding of fuel. Since the President Carter years breeding fuel has been off the table in the U.S. and the experience has tainted views worldwide. Breeding of fuel would create substantial regulatory hurdles, as well as substantial technology hurdles, leading to much more additional research and development costs.

All of this is unnecessary if a reactor is a simple burner. The only reason to breed nuclear fuel is if there is a concern that fuel supplies are scarce and declining. Uranium is geologically abundant and available in quantities sufficient to supply the world’s power needs for centuries. Canada alone has huge reserves.

A quick look through the company website reveals there is a considerable intellectual and commercial experience bankroll. The opportunity for ORNL is substantial and for the Canadians immense. This firm looks to have the legs to get something done and soon.


1 Comment so far

  1. Matt Musson on January 14, 2015 2:17 PM

    Linking up with Canada suggests that the first step would be to get approval to build the reactor in that nation. In addition, reactors could be sold to the US military and located on military reservations where civilian licensing is not necessary.

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