This is the third of a four-part series of extracts from the book Plentiful Energy — The story of the Integral Fast Reactor by Chuck Till and Yoon Chang.
Reproduced with permission of the authors, these sections describe and justify some of the key design choices that went into the making the IFR a different — and highly successful — approach to fast neutron reactor technology and its associated fuel recycling.
These excerpts not only provide a fascinating insight into a truly sustainable form nuclear power; they also provide excellent reference material for refuting many of the spurious claims on the internet about IFR by people who don’t understand (or choose to wilfully misrepresent) this critically important technology.
The third extract looks at the history of costs for commercial fast reactors to date (e.g., Superphenix in France). What can this tell us about the possible future costs of the IFR? (the final part will do a comparison with light water reactors). This section is drawn from pages 274-277 of Plentiful Energy. To buy the book ($18 US) and get the full story, go to Amazon or CreateSpace. (Note that the images below do not come from the book).
Fast Reactor Capital Cost: What can be learned from fast reactor construction experience to date?
Some notion of likely cost competitiveness can be gained from past fast reactor construction experience, but the information available is limited. It can be said that the capital costs per MWe of the early fast reactors built around the world were much higher than those of LWRs. But the comparisons are not by any means direct and unambiguous. In comparison to the LWR, every difference between the two adds a cost increment to the fast reactor. With one significant exception, they were much smaller in size and electrical capacity than the LWRs built for commercial electricity generation. There were only a few of them. They were built as demonstration plants, by governments underwriting fast reactor development. There was basically one demonstration per country, with no follow-on to take advantage of the experience and lessons learned. Nor were they scaled up and replicated. The LWR had long since passed the stage where first-of-a-kind costs were involved, and had the advantage of economies of scale as well. Further, their purpose was commercial, with the attendant incentive to keep costs down. None of this has applied to fast reactors built to the present time.
Experience with thermal reactor types, as well as other large-scale construction, has shown that capital cost reduction follows naturally through a series of demonstration plants of increasing size once feasibility is proven. This has been true in every country, with exceptions only in the periods when construction undergoes lengthy delays due to organized anti-nuclear legal challenges. But this phased approach of multiple demonstration plants is no longer likely to be affordable, and in any case, with the experience worldwide now, it is probably unnecessary for a fast reactor plant today. Estimating the “settled down” capital cost potential is not an easy task without such experience. Nevertheless, as the economic competitiveness of the fast reactor is taken to be a prerequisite to commercial deployment, we do need to understand the capital cost potential of the fast reactor and what factors influence it.