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Advanced Reactor Economics and Markets

by Charles Forsberg and Eric Ingersoll

in Nuclear News, May 2021

The viability of nuclear power ultimately depends on economics. Safety is a requirement, but it does not determine whether a reactor will be deployed. The most economical reactor maximizes revenue while minimizing costs. The lowest-cost reactor is not necessarily the most economical reactor. Different markets impost difference requirements on reactors. If the capital costs of Reactor A is 50% more than Reactor B but has characteristics that double the revenue, the most economical reactor is Reactor A.


The most important factor is an efficient supply chain, including on-site construction practices. This is the basis for the low capital cost of light water reactors from China and South Korea. The design can significantly affect capital cost through its impact on supply chain. The question is, how can advanced reactors boost revenue and reduce cost?


The most important feature of advanced reactors is that they deliver heat at higher temperatures. The question is, what is the value of higher-temperature heat?

Higher-temperature heat opens up many heat markets, including industrial sectors that use large quantities of higher-temperature heat than can b provided by LWRs. The chemical industry alone requires about 100,000 MW of heat. The Next Generation Nuclear Plant program to develop high-temperature reactors was based on this market. The program was ultimately canceled because fracking dramatically reduced the cost of natural gas; the program was a victim of bad timing. However, the goal of a low-carbon economy makes nuclear energy competitive in that market if the reactor can provide high-temperature heat. There are also two newer and larger markets for high-temperature heat: variable electricity and hydrogen production... 

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Charles Forsberg is director and principal investigator for the Fluoride Sal-Cooled High-Temperature Reactor Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eric Ingersoll is a managing director at LucidCatalyst. 

Pictured: TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy jointly developed the sodium-cooled Natrium reactor with the turbine hall, nitrate heat storage tanks, and cooling towers separated from the reactor at the back of the site.​​

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