# Questions on reactors and VASIMR

I'm doing a project on sending a team to Mars in the future and I was wondering if any of you nice people from the physics community might be able to give me a helping hand with a few questions.
Firstly, does anyone have an idea of how much it is likely to cost to build a VASIMR engine in 2050, it's a bit hypothetical I know, but its worth a shot to see what your opinions on the matter are. Also any ideas on the weight of the afore mentioned engine are also most welcome.
Finally, it's a question I have already asked without much success but I'll throw it out there again anyway, does anyone have even a vague clue as to how much a focus fusion reactor might cost?
If anyone has better ideas than my proposed methods I would be more than happy to hear them.
Thanks,
Seamo

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ohwilleke
Gold Member
This site shows what it has actually cost to build nuclear power plants: http://www.thenewagesite.com/jjdewey/deceptions/17.php [Broken] which is on the order of single digit billions. The space shuttle program has cost on the order of $100 billion. A nuclear powered aircraft carrier costs on the order of$13 billion to build. You are proposing something that is far more sophisticated than any of these things on a far larger scale using technology that does not exist. A trillion 2005 dollars would be a low ball estimate.

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Ohwilleke,

That site says, "The time from ground breaking to operation testing of a nuclear power plant was increased from 42 months in 1967, to 54 months in 1972, to 70 months in 1980 to almost 20 years from the planning to the opening of the Seabrook plant, which I believe is the last plant to open in this country."

Actually, Watts Bar I (1996) was the last plant opened.

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
It's indicative of something or other that google suggested that "nuclear last plant" was really "nuclear blast plant".

ohwilleke
Gold Member
Fortunately for my purposes, the inaccuracy of the source doesn't matter for the purpose for which I cited it, which was to get a back of napkin figure for the cost of building a nuclear power plant. I honestly didn't even read the part you note is inaccurate.

Ohwilleke,

The numbers cited at that link refer to plants that were severely delayed in construction. Watts Bar Unit 1 took 25 years to build. The bank loans for the project collected interest during all those years. In the construction industry, time = money. The latest plant designs (AP600/AP1000/ABWR) may take only 36 months to build and cost ultimately only ~$1500/kilowatt. Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor The last several LWR units, which came on-line would be bad examples for developing cost estimates, because of the reasons for delays in construction and the general situation with the nuclear industry at the time. All plants under construction were affected by the accident at TMI (1979), which meant knew safety issues were introduced. Then again, the fire at Browns Ferry 1 (1984) again raised design issue such as redundancy of safety and control systems, which meant plants under contruction were forced to make costly redesigns or retrofits. In some cases, litigation from intervenors (some anti-nuclear groups) increased the cost by expenses for litigation, as well as increasing interest on capital due to delays in construction. Construction at TVA's Watts Bar and Bellefonte units was put on hold to deal with other issues, namely resources were diverted to bring Browns Ferry 2 and 3 back on-line after being mothballed in 1985. BF2 was restarted June 1991 and BF3 returned to service in Dec 1995. The entire complex of three units at Browns Ferry had been completed for about$1 billion in the early 1970's.

hitssquad has provided a reasonable estimate for the cost of a new advanced LWR, although the future cost might be closer to $2000 / kWe. Building a space reactor and propulsion system might cost more because of the nature of the system. VASIMR technology is still being developed and at the moment produces very low thrust to be of practical use. ohwilleke Gold Member I'm not sure that your right in terms of the proper comparison. If anything early, troubled nuclear power plant projects are a better comparison to another early stage technology, like a new type of starship engine, than a mature nuclear power plant cost. New technologies invariably have large cost overruns, delays, safety concerns, and the like. VASMIR would no doubt follow this trend. Also, by my calculations,$2000/KW still works out to $2B for a pretty typically sized 1000 MW reactor, which is on the right order of magnitude for what I was estimating (in a back of napkin way). Good points, Ohwilleke. Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor It is difficult to forcast the cost of something 45 years from now, but if we compare prices now and 45 years ago, average housing and buildings costs have increased by about a factor of 10. So barring a revaluation of the dollar, a depression or a period of deflation, a$2 billion dollar plant now would cost about $20 billion in yr2050. The cost of nuclear plants will be high because there are so few, i.e. they are not a commodity, and the economics of volume do not apply. Other things to keep in mind - 1. In the 1960's and 1970's, there was little or no previous experience with the kind of nuclear power plants that were being designed and built - 'it was learn as you go'. Now with the current generation of plants on the drawing board, the industry has 50+ years of experience. Unfortunately, the industry is losing a lot of knowledge, because the people who designed and built the current plants are retired or dying off, and there are new and significant challenges. 2. The nuclear power plant (and its technology) in spacecraft propulsion system is developed independently of the propulsive device. Assuming a nuclear-electric propulsion system - the interface is simply the bus that supplies the electrical energy from the generator to the propulsive device. A commercial nuclear plant operating on earth is different technology than a nuclear plant operating in space. On earth, most plants are LWR technology, whereas in space, the first gen nuclear-electric plants would be either gas-cooled or liquid metal compact fast reactors (small cores - with highly enriched U or (U,Pu) fuel). I am not yet optimistic on fusion systems, which might someday be incorporated into a VASIMR-drived concept. Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz (doctorate in applied plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1977) is the Director, Advanced Space Propulsion Lab, Johnson Space Center. His group is doing development work on VASIMR. Currently the thrust is insubstantial. Under project Prometheus, the Naval Reactors has been working with Northrop Grumman to design a nuclear propuslion system for the JIMO project. There is a conceptual design for the nuclear system, but it is a long way from manufacturing - basic materials issues need to be addressed. would any one mind telling me how much a nuclear power plant costs to build becuase it would realy help me on a project i have to do Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Probably about$1.5-2 billion for a 1500-1600 MWe plant.

A lot depends on design, capacity, economy of scale (capacity and number of units per site), discount rate (interest), taxes, amortization. Then there is O&M and fuel cycle costs.

I believe the target is about $1000/kWe of installed capacity, but in reality its higher. Morbius Science Advisor Dearly Missed This site shows what it has actually cost to build nuclear power plants: http://www.thenewagesite.com/jjdewey/deceptions/17.php [Broken] which is on the order of single digit billions. The space shuttle program has cost on the order of$100 billion. A nuclear powered aircraft carrier costs on the order of $13 billion to build. ohwilleke, You are in ERROR in your estimate of aircraft carrier cost by a factor of 3. The latest Nimitz-class carrier ot be compled, CVN-76, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan cost$4.3 Billion:

http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/cvn-76.htm

As others have pointed out; the costs of the nuclear power plants given in the link were
GROSSLY inflated by delays due to lawsuits. A power plant may not be added to the
rate base until it is completed and producing power - but the utility is still paying the
interest on the construction loan while the plant is waiting for its license. So most of the
total cost of the plant isn't the plant - but is INTEREST on the construction loan.

One of the problems with the U.S. licensing system is it is a 2-step system. The utility
has to apply for a construction license; and that opens the avenue for lawsuits. However,
after the issues are resolved by the Courts, and the construction license issued, the
plant may be built.

However, the plant may not be operated until it receives an operating license. Because
this is a new approval - those opposed to the plant get "a second bite at the apple", as
they say in legal circles; this second license opens the doors to the Courts again!!

New legislation is underway to fix this. All issues and challenges are litigate at the
construction license phase. Once a construction license is granted, and the utility
is shown to have constructed the plant in accordance with the construction license;
the operating license is automatic. [ This is similar to the way homes are built / licensed ]

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

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Morbius
Dearly Missed
If anything early, troubled nuclear power plant projects are a better comparison to another early stage technology, like a new type of starship engine, than a mature nuclear power plant cost. New technologies invariably have large cost overruns, delays, safety concerns, and the like.
ohwilleke,

However, the history of nuclear power plants shows the opposite trend.

The very early power plants - Yankee Rowe, Big Rock Point, Dresden 1, up through those
of the same vintage as Palisades; i.e. those plants that were built in the '60s and early
'70s came in with costs that were very reasonable and in-line with projections.

The big upsoar in costs of nuclear power plants in the USA seems to have coincided with
the end of the Vietnam War. After the war, there was this huge "protest enterprise" that
was looking for a new target - and nuclear power plants became that target.

It was only when there were all these protests and lawsuits producing delays; which
increased the cost of the plant due to the increased loan interest; that nuclear power
plants experienced massive overruns. Coupled with that is that fact that most of these
plants were constructed in the late '70s and early '80s when interest rates were soaring,
and interest is the main cost of the power plant that is being delayed.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

Although the last reply to this forum was over 3 years ago, Id like to show you all something. Theyve made it, and this was 2009.

"Short for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, VASIMR® is a new high-power plasma-based space propulsion technology, initially studied by NASA and now being developed privately by Ad Astra. A VASIMR® engine could transport payloads in space far more efficiently and economically than todays chemical rockets. The company envisions an early commercial deployment of the technology, beginning in 2014, to greatly reduce the operational costs of maintaining an evolving space infrastructure, including space stations, satellites, lunar outposts and fuel depots in the Earth-Moon environment. Ultimately, VASIMR® engines could also greatly shorten robotic and human transit times for missions to Mars and beyond." -Ad Astra. 2009

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