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.
The earliest fast reactors designed and built in the 1950s give essentially no usable cost information. They were small, and there were just a few of them: EBR-II at 20 MWe; Fermi-1 at 61 MWe; and DFR in the U.K. (pictured right), at about 15 MWe. The principal experience is with the oxide-fueled demonstration plants that came on in the 1970s. France built the 250 MWe Phenix reactor, operational in 1974 and only taken out of service in 2009. Germany built SNR-300, completed, but never operated due to anti-nuclear sentiment in that country. The U.K. built and operated the 270 MWe Prototype Breeder Reactor, PFR. It was troubled by problems in the non-nuclear portion of the system and has been closed down for many years. Japan built and operated Monju, a 300 MWe reactor, shutdown after a relatively minor sodium leak in 1995, and returned to operation in May of 2011. TheU.S. built and operated a test reactor, FFTF, with a thermal power of 400 MWth, which operated for a decade without any problems. Because it had no electrical generation capability, it was shut down when need for fuel irradiation experience in a fast neutron environment lessened and there were no further U.S. plans for fast reactor introduction of any kind. The U.S. demonstration plant, CRBR, at 375 MWe, was ready for construction, but was cancelled by the Carter administration, and was eventually terminated in 1983.
In the West, Francewas the exception. The French followed their demonstration plant with a plant of commercial size, and of the nations that had active fast reactor development programs they went further toward the goal of commercialization of fast reactors than any of the others. Following a 40 MWth experimental fast reactor Rapsodie in 1967 and the 250 MWe Phenix in 1974, a 1,240 MWe full-scale demonstration reactor, SuperPhenix, began operation in 1985 (pictured at the top of this post). It did not benefit significantly from Phenix experience, as its design had begun almost concurrently with Phenix. It was constructed by Novatome, a largely French European consortium, under a turnkey contract. The fixed price for the nuclear steam supply system was about $1 billion . EdF, the French national utility, was responsible for the balance of the plant, which was about 40% of the total cost. The capital cost of SuperPhenix was reported as 2.1 times that of French PWRs of the time .
In parallel to the SuperPhenix construction, Novatome was also developing a design for a 1,500 MWe SuperPhenix-II. They estimated a 20% cost reduction due to elimination of first-of-a-kind factors and a 17% reduction due to scaling to the larger size. These two factors alone would have reduced the capital cost per kWe basis to about 1.4 times the French PWR costs. [1-2] The conceptual design of SuperPhenix-II also identified substantial reductions of construction commodities relative to SuperPhenix on a per kWe basis . They are shown in Table 13-1. (see Table below)
But SuperPhenix did show that a near-commercial-size fast reactor was more expensive than an LWR. Somewhat blurring the issue even for SuperPhenix, however, was the fact that it was not a strict follow-on from the totally French designed Phenix reactor. The latter was a simple design; the SuperPhenix design was considerably more complex. Nevertheless, estimates from SuperPhenix experience form the most direct comparison we have.
The scaleup from 250 MWe to 1,240 MWe was a gigantic step and assuring that the reactor would actually operate satisfactorily was the primary goal. But with the cost reduction the principal goal for the follow-on SuperPhenix-II, significant reductions in construction commodities were possible, as illustrated in Table 13-1. This estimate was made in 1985, when the SuperPhenix-II design was still in early development stage. After an extraordinarily troubled history of protests, court cases, violence, and low-level sabotage including a rocket attack by Greens, as well as some technical problems, SuperPhenix operation was finally terminated once and for all in 1997. A new government had come in with Green participation, and that fact, combined with SuperPhenix’s erratic operating record, was sufficient to end its operating life; decommissioning began the following year. The prospects for SuperPhenix-II died with it. Nevertheless, the work that is summarized in Table 13-1 does illustrate where the potential is for cost reduction in fast reactor designs in a mature economy of fast reactors. It suggests that the potential for economic competitiveness for the first fast reactors built is approachable, and is likely in a larger mature economy of fast reactors.
Apart from the French fast reactor program, the next largest fast reactor plant ever built is Russian BN-600 (pictured left), which started operation in 1980. (An earlier demonstration plant, BN-350, had a satisfactory history, producing power as well as filling a desalination mission.) The BN-600 capital cost in $/kWe was reported to be 1.5 times that of the Russian LWRs. As follow-on, three BN-800 plants were planned to be constructed but were abandoned in the chaos of the breakup of theSoviet Union. In 2006, construction of one BN-800 was re-initiated at Beloyarsk. The updated cost estimate for BN-800 per kWe basis is 0.9 of BN-600.  In parallel, a larger BN-1800 design is being developed, and a preliminary estimate indicates that the capital cost per kWe would be about 0.48 of BN-600. This does indicate the potential for competitiveness with LWRs. 
India, too, has successfully operated a small Fast Breeder Test Reactor (42.5 MWth/12 MWe); it has been operating since 1985, and has included demonstration of a full carbide-fueled core.India probably will be the first nation to commercialize fast reactors. In 2004,Indiastarted construction of a 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR; pictured right). The capital cost for this project is estimated at $622 million.  The construction completion is targeted for 2014. Following this project, four more similar 500 MWe units are planned in two twin units at two different sites. The capital cost for these units are estimated at $544 million each.  With different materials and labor rates and financing structure, it is difficult to judge how this would translate to a plant built in the U.S. India’s current commercial reactors are small 200 MWe heavy water reactors, and the 500 MWe fast reactors should compete favorably in India in $/kWe. However, the fully-developed LWRs to be introduced later may have significant capital cost advantages there as well.
 M. Rosenhole, NOVATOM, unpublished presentations, November 1981
 M. Rapin, “Fast Breeder Fuel Cycle: World and French Prospects” Proc. BNES Conf. on Fast Reactor Fuel Cycles, 1981
 M. Barberger, “The French Nuclear Power Program”, unpublished paper, 1985
 A. Zrodnikov, “The Closing of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Role of Fast Reactor in the Innovative Development of Large-Scale Nuclear Power in Russia”, presentation at International Workshop on Future Nuclear Systems and Fuel Cycles, Karlsruhe, Germany, September 1-2, 2005
 S.C. Chetal, “India’s Fast Reactor Programme”, presentation at International Workshop on Future Nuclear Systems and Fuel Cycles, Jeju, Korea, September 7-8, 2006