What Are The Economics Of Pebble Bed Reactors

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Hi All

Out here in Australia you are not allowed to build a nuclear reactor. Even talking about it brings out the nut cases saying really intellectual carefully considered comments - Oh no not another nuclear nut. Further discussion usually indicates they don't even know the difference between Fusion and Fission so I usually just laugh and leave them to their ignorance,

However recently some opinion shows are now, horror of horrors, actually discussing nuclear because the voices wanting low emission base load power at prices compatible with coal is becoming louder. I of course agree this is needed - but as I explained it has in the past been shut down. I need to mention Australia is lucky we have plenty of Uranium, Thorium and Coal, plus huge amount of dessert well away from civilization to store waste. It's a standing joke here in Australia if anyone attacked us they would have to face General Outback and his troops the SASR, also known as the Phantoms of the Jungle - just a bit of humor.

One proposal struck me was talk of using Pebble Bed Reactors which I had never head of. I now have learned about them, and the articles said they produce electricity for about the same price as gas. But in the discussion it was mentioned while expensive to build initially compared to coal powered plants, the new ones have a life of 100 years making it the cheapest form of base-load power generation over its life cycle.

Is this true? If true for me its a no brainer solution to our power generation issues.

Thanks
Bill
 
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Most of the things you read about them are unsubstantiated claims. Pebble beds have their own problems. So when the authorities finish making all the conservative assumptions, and safety feature requirements, who knows what it will cost?

I tend to view these things from their ability to attract investors. Investors have to worry that something may happen in the future which causes public support to flip and they loose all their money. Regulations can also change in the future. There are safer investments and AFAIK, no private party can be compelled to invest in energy infrastructure. Those concerns bias things in favor of low-initial-cost, short-lead-time, rapid ROI power projects, even if those kinds of projects return fewer public benefits.


 

etudiant

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With pebble bed, as with all things nuclear, the devil is in the details.
Germany built a modest size prototype at Juelich, it ran nicely for a while, then one night the feed mechanism that helps the pebbles circulate got jammed. The operators tried to dislodge the jam (with a broomstick reportedly) and broke over 40 of the pebbles, causing extensive contamination. That ended the program.

Imho, the incident again underlines how much nuclear is entirely dependent on unrelenting quality control. That was achieved in the US Navy because Rickover was fanatical about it and imbued his staff with the same zeal. Even today, if you go on a nuclear sub, you will be stunned by the ongoing detailed maintenance programs on board.
Getting the same dedicated effort to continue in civilian nuclear programs where economics are the cornerstone is pretty much mission impossible. (The Boeing MAX experience currently reminds us that this is not a problem unique to the nuclear industry.).
A further consequence of that is that neither the US nor Europe has the capability to build current generation reactors on any kind of a reliable budget or schedule, largely due to quality control failures at all levels exacerbated by opaque and uncertain regulatory guidance. That leaves the door open to new designs, perhaps driven by the push for reliable low emission power
If there were a nuclear power concept that was small enough to be self contained and manageable in the event of major breakdown, as well as self sufficient for an extended period with an essentially sealed design, it might achieve a break through.
Afaik, the Terrapower concept which attracted some funds from Bill Gates respects some of these criteria, but it appears to have lost favor, possibly for technical reasons.
 
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Damn, Feynman strikes again. Sounds errily similar to what he found with the Challenger disaster that was not even in the main report but only allowed in an appendix. Nature can't be fooled and you must account for all contingencies, which is especially important with nuclear. Ah well back to the drawing board.

Thanks
Bill
 

DEvens

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As others have mentioned, the actual build and the approximation-laden theory often diverge. There are several reactor designs that people were confident of until they built one. Then they found that things they assumed were trivial were not really trivial. Here are just two.

Gentilly 1 and it's vertical fuel channels was a big issue.



The MAPLE reactor was supposed to generate medical isotopes. After a lot of heartache it was cancelled.


On the other hand, the mature version of CANDU is doing really very well. Darlington Nuclear is exceeding 90% capacity factor life-time.
 
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I have to put a plug in for my own former employer's (ASEA ATOM) design the PIUS reactor. It was intended to do what reactors are best at --- making hot water, not electricity. The hot water would have been used to provide district heating for the city of Helsinki. Yes, a reactor sited at the downtown of a major city. But alas, the press conference to announce the Helsinki project was preceded by the news from Chernobyl by 24 hours. Today it is even hard to find references to PIUS on the Internet.


The PIUS design goal was “complete protection against core melting or overheating in case of any credible equipment failure, natural events such as earthquakes and tornadoes, reasonably credible operator mistakes, and combination of all those. In addition, the design should protect against inside sabotage by plant personnel completely knowledgeable about reactor design, terrorist attacks in collaboration with insiders, military attack, as by aircraft with ‘off-the-shelf’ non nuclear weapons, and abandonment of the plant by the operating personnel.

Such a PIUS light-water reactor was indeed designed by ASEA-Atom that would cost no more than a conventional plant with the same generation capacity. But to-date no PIUS plant has been ordered.

1569859451749.png

 

etudiant

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Wow, had no idea you worked on PIUS. Good on you!
The design always struck me as elegant, particularly the passive safety features .
Unfortunate indeed that the Helsinki deployment was prevented, it could have done a lot to bring the nuclear debate back to the real world.
 

etudiant

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As others have mentioned, the actual build and the approximation-laden theory often diverge. There are several reactor designs that people were confident of until they built one. Then they found that things they assumed were trivial were not really trivial. Here are just two.

Gentilly 1 and it's vertical fuel channels was a big issue.



The MAPLE reactor was supposed to generate medical isotopes. After a lot of heartache it was cancelled.


On the other hand, the mature version of CANDU is doing really very well. Darlington Nuclear is exceeding 90% capacity factor life-time.
With the caution that the Kakrapar reactor incident could have been very ugly indeed.
Even CANDUs have their glitches, but just as you say, the Darlington site is performing superbly. I believe it is the largest nuclear complex in North America and deserves to be seen as a model.
 
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You can never know the complete economics of nuclear reactors until you have found a way to get rid of the nuclear waste. What might seem reasonable now ("Just drop the waste into some desert") may not be reasonable in 20 years, not to speak about the next 200.000 years.
 

Vanadium 50

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Unlike the excellent and well-thought out plan we have to dispose of fossil fuel waste.
 
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Unlike the excellent and well-thought out plan we have to dispose of fossil fuel waste.
Here in Aus an ex Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, was a big supporter of using the huge amount of desert we have as a dumping ground for nuclear waste. Even though he was not a new age type, he loved attending those kind of events where he was generally treated like a hero. But despite the boo's etc he was unwavering in that Australia should do it - it would be a good source of income. He was also equally unwavering in his support for Nuclear Power helping to save the planet - despite the same derision not only from new age types but the public in general. Bob had some failings, but forming his own view and sticking to it was not one of them.

Personally after reading this thread I am forced to conclude there is no magic bullet - the answer is what the experts mostly say - we will have a mix of power sources, including nuclear which whether the public likes it or not will need to be looked at. South Australia (SA), a state here in Australia, is looking at 100% net renewables by 2030:

Already SA has had a number of well reported blackouts. As Yes Minister made famous, that's extremely courageous Minister. We will see.

Thanks
Bill
 
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Already SA has had a number of well reported blackouts.
That should have made headlines world wide, but it didn't.

It ought to be mentioned every time a politician in any country calls for 100%. But most people in most countries have never heard of the SA experience.

If energy policy is to be rational, then the only people qualified to set policy are electric power reliability engineers. ( Let engineers rule the world? It will never happen. :frown:)
 
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Like I said - that's extremely courageous Minister.
Thanks for sharing that. But from what the article says, it sounds like they are suing the wrong parties.

As the number of faults on the transmission network grew, nine wind farms in the Mid North of SA exhibited a sustained reduction in power as a protection feature activated.

For most, the protection settings allowed the wind turbines to withstand a pre-set number of voltage dips within a two-minute period.

When the protection feature kicked in, the output of those wind farms fell by 456 megawatts over a period of less than seven seconds.
When I worked at a grid operations company, we required all generators to supply the details of all such protective devices, and to adjust the settings to what the grid operator orders.

South Australia has an automatic load-shedding system designed to kick-in in just such an event.

But the rate of change of the frequency was so rapid, the automatic load-shedding scheme did not work.
Again, that is a failure of the grid operator.

Based on those two things, I think they should sue the grid operator, not the wind farms.
 

russ_watters

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Thanks for sharing that. But from what the article says, it sounds like they are suing the wrong parties.


When I worked at a grid operations company, we required all generators to supply the details of all such protective devices, and to adjust the settings to what the grid operator orders.
Do we know if the turbines were capable of operating with the settings the grid needs? Does the mix of sources affect it? E.G., below a certain percentage of wind it would be ok but above that percentage the settings no longer work? Who gets to decide who's responsibility it is if there are different entities with competing interests playing in the same sandbox?
 
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Do we know if the turbines were capable of operating with the settings the grid needs? Does the mix of sources affect it? E.G., below a certain percentage of wind it would be ok but above that percentage the settings no longer work? Who gets to decide who's responsibility it is if there are different entities with competing interests playing in the same sandbox?
The grid operator (at least here in the USA) has an "interconnection agreement" they can enforce that imposes performance standards on the generators. A design incapable of doing what the grid needs would not meet that standard, and would be denied permission to connect to the grid.

In that sense, there is no parity, no ambiguity, in who sets standards and who must comply. Also in the USA, each regional grid operator must comply with the minimum standards published by NERC (National Electric Reliability Councils). So far, all these standards and mandates are private industry, not government.

Edit: I almost forgot. Using the miracles of modern power electronics, some wind farms are deploying "synthetic inertia" What that means is that they control the first and second time derivatives of voltage phase angle to mimic the dynamics of an old-fashioned steam turbine-generators to make the grid happier. IMO that is very clever use of modern technology.
 
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