Terrestrial Energy to Submit Design Certification to NRC for a Molten Salt Reactor in 2019
The firm has also entered into pre-licensing talks with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Terrestrial Energy USA Ltd (TEUSA) announced last week that the company has informed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its plans to license its IMSR400, a small modular, advanced nuclear reactor, in the United States.
Click here for a large graphic image of reactor conceptual design.
Click here for the Full text of the letter.
The company has set an ambitious schedule claiming it will submit its licensing application to the agency in late 2019. The firm’s advanced reactor technology, based on molten salt technology, is unlike anything the NRC has seen in recent decades.
The firm is also the first developer of molten salt reactor technology in the current era to announce a timetable to take the design to the NRC. No one else is reported to be as close in the US. However, any expectation that the agency could complete a safety evaluation in 42 months needs to be given a second look based on the complexity and innovative technology in the firm’s reactor design.
TEUSA included in its letter to the NRC, the status of the design, analyses, testing, licensing, and project planning for the TEUSA Integral Molten Salt Reactor (“IMSR™”), a liquid-fueled, high-temperature, 400 Megawatt-thermal (“MWth”), power plant design.
The firm’s decision to seek the “gold standard” an an NRC design certification flies in the face of conventional wisdom among developers of advanced nuclear technologies which is that the cost of paying for the NRC’s learning curve is prohibitive and would result in significant delays in actually being able to build a first of a kind unit.
For instance, the deep pocket firm Terra Power, funded in part by billionaire Bill Gates, has voted with its feet taking its effort offshore to build a half size first of a kind prototype in China. It did so because it felt that the path through the NRC would be too expensive and take too long. Terra Power expects to complete the 600 MW prototype in 2023 and have a full size unit ready for customers by 2030.
TEUSA said in a press statement it intends to commence pre-application interactions with the NRC in 2017, a process which will lead to an IMSR400 Design Certification application in accordance with 10 CFR Part 52, or a Construction Permit in accordance with 10 CFR Part 50. There are significant differences between the two approaches.
A part 50 process comes in two phases – one for construction and another for the license to operate the plant. A part 52 process combines the construction and licensing phases. However, in both cases, the developer of the reactor design must still seek and obtain from the NRC a design certification with regard to safety before a customer, a utility, can apply for a license to break ground to build one.
TEUSA said it recognizes the challenges it faces in asking the NRC to review and reach safety, security, and environmental findings on the IMSR™ design, within a 42 month period, which is the duration of its reviews for conventional light water reactors.
One of those challenges has is raising the estimated $400 million it will take to complete the design and assemble the actual application paperwork. So far the firm only has secured Series A funding for about 10% of that amount.
Recently NuScale, which is developing a 50 MW SMR based on light water technologies, said it had spent at least $400M on reactor design and the application it submitted on 12/31/16 to the NRC. It had a cost sharing agreement with the Department of Energy which helped the firm cross the finish line for submitting the 12,000 page document to the NRC.
The NRC announced a vision and strategy for licensing advanced reactors in January 2017. In a review, Rod Adams, writing at Forbes, was critical of the agency’s claims of being able to process such a advanced reactor application.
The Nuclear Innovation Alliance, a coalition of advanced nuclear reactor developers, has testified before Congress on steps the NRC needs to take to be truly ready to accept an application like the one planned by Terrestrial Energy.
Simon Irish, CEO of TEUSA says he remains enthusiastic despite the steep road ahead and the apparent problems at the NRC.
“This is a very exciting time for the nuclear power industry. We are moving forward with the design and regulatory actions needed to allow the Company to bring the IMSR™ to market in the 2020s.”
Four Sites Under Consideration
Although the firm’s home office is located in Ontario, Canada, Irish went further saying the firm is currently examining four sites in the US for its first commercial plant. These sites include the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), near Idaho Falls, ID, as well as additional sites east of the Mississippi River. A spokesman for the INL declined to comment on TEUSA’s claim it is prospecting a site there.
The Department of Energy has issued a site license to UAMPS, a consortium of utilities, to build NuScale’s 50 MW LWR type SMR there should it obtain an NRC design certification.
There are some other sites that come to mind on a speculative basis though the firm has not named them.
Once could be a site recently named by TVA at its Clinch River site in Tennessee. TVA has submitted an application to the NRC for an early site permit for an SMR at the site, but all four of the reactor designs it lists in that application are based on conventional light water reactors.
Another site could be in Wisconsin. Last year the legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill lifting the state’s three decade old ban on new nuclear power plants. In 2012 Dominion said that it would close the Kewaunee Power Station in 2013 because it was unable to find a buyer and the plant was no longer economically viable.
The site is large enough that even if the light water reactor there is being decommissioned, it could accommodate a new SMR. Dominion has said it is interested in SMRs.
A third possibility is the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Several SMR developers have looked at SRS as a possible site because of its security, workforce, and the possibility of a partnership with the Department of Energy.
Another fully characterized nuclear site might be the Zion nuclear plant in Illinois which is also now undergoing decommissioning. Terrestrial Energy has a small grant from the INL GAIN program to work with Argonne National Laboratory, also in Illinois, on molten salt technology. Technical staff from Terrestrial Energy have spent time at the lab which is a mere 60 miles south of the Zion plant just outside the Chicago metro area.
Further afield there have been several efforts in Kentucky to salvage the state’s coal industry by building a nuclear reactor to make petrochemicals from the mineral.
In all cases, TEUSA says has begun to investigate the commercial prospects for an IMSR™ power plant for both electric-power and industrial heat co-generation.
And there is competition on the horizon. Southern Nuclear has teamed up with X-Energy to develop a molten chloride salt reactor using pebble bed fuel. Terra Power is also exploring molten salt reactor technology in a partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
World Nuclear News noted in its coverage of the announcement that Molten salt reactors use fuel dissolved in a molten fluoride or chloride salt which functions as both the fuel (producing the heat) and the coolant (transporting the heat away and ultimately to the power plant).
This means that such a reactor could not suffer from a loss of coolant leading to a meltdown. Terrestrial’s IMSR integrates the primary reactor components, including primary heat exchangers to secondary clean salt circuit, in a sealed and replaceable core vessel. It is designed as a modular reactor for factory fabrication.
LeadCold Seals $200M Funding Agreement
(WNN) LeadCold, the developer of a lead-cooled small nuclear reactor (SMR) technology, said on 01/26/17 that licensing and construction of a demonstration 3-10 MW SEALER (Swedish Advanced Lead Fast Reactor) in Canada has moved a step closer as the result of $200 million in funding from Essel Group Middle East.
In October last year, Essel Group ME – a subsidiary of Indian multinational conglomerate Essel Group – announced it had agreed to invest $18 million in Swedish-Canadian LeadCold. LeadCold has now announced that it signed an investment and financing agreement for $200 million. The funding commitment is one of the most significant for an advanced nuclear reactor startup in either Canada or the US.
The investment agreement with Essel Group ME will enable LeadCold to complete the 15 month long pre-licensing review with the CNSC; complete a detailed engineering design of the reactor; carry out the R&D necessary for licensing the design in Canada; and, license and construct a full-scale 3 MWe demonstration unit.
Also in December, LeadCold signed a roadmap agreement with KIC InnoEnergy – the European company for innovation in sustainable energy – to work together to commercialize the use of SEALER in off-grid applications.
LeadCold aims to obtain a license to construct a demonstration SEALER unit in Canada by the end of 2021. It anticipates having the unit ready for operation in 2025. The company estimates the future cost of purchasing a SEALER reactor at CAD100 million ($76 million).
LeadCold is a spin-off from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, where lead-cooled reactor systems have been under development since 1996.