1. StarCore’s web site claim that their design is likely to be first to get licensed sounds legit, considering that there is little technical innovation (as intended).

    Unfortunately, getting licensed doesn’t automatically mean business success.

    Specifically, StarCore appear to ignore the “cheaper than coal” paradigm — at their own risk.

    At least three aspects of their design suggest a high capital cost.

    Firstly, TRISO fuel is very expensive, both due to the special fabrication process and the relatively high fuel enrichment level.

    Secondly, HTGRs have a low power density, as mentioned during the podcast.
    That in itself is not necessarily bad.
    The problem arises when a costly pressure vessel must enclose a low power density reactor core (i.e.: it isn’t nearly as big an issue for low power density reactors operating at ambient pressure — like for example SFRs and MSRs).
    The issue is compounded by the very large excavation proposed for below-grade siting.

    Lastly — and this is also related low power density — the selection of graphite moderator, in the form of TRISO fuel with low concentration fuel loading, means that large volumes of radioactive graphite waste will be generated.
    Again, this will impact overall costs, albeit at the “back end.”

    So, although the project looks interesting and fun, it is not the game-changer that is really needed.

  2. I couldn’t get anything on their site to display even after enabling Javascript from some sites I don’t fully trust.

    If they won’t even let me read their claims, I don’t see why I should take them seriously.

    1. @E-P

      I’m not in a position to determine why you cannot see the StarCore site. It loaded fine for me, albeit a little more slowly than I would like.

      I cannot judge the quality of a design by the choices made in designing a web page.

  3. @EP – I got into the site. It is very general with no diagrams or long winded technical discussions of potential products.

    Some nuclear power plants being built today have problems. In particular, the EPR units being built in Europe are running behind schedule and this is contributing to higher cost. I would think a potential buyer of a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) would have the risk of delayed schedule and increased cost as a major consideration, Although the Starcore concept may have an initial higher cost than other postulated units, the fact that it incorporates features that have found long term success would certainly weigh heavily in the considerations of a potential buyer. The use of little to no water certainly helps in the siting of these units.

    The idea seems to be somewhat similar to General Atomics EM2 unit.

    1. @Eino

      StarCore is not selling power plants. Their model is to sell electricity and other products. That is why their web site includes only a general description of the technology they plan to use.

      1. Thanks for clarifying. I hadn’t realized their function was to act as a “middle man.” It appears that right now they are a company with a good idea to sell and few assets to lose.

  4. It seems like these guys share a lot in common with the business model for LFTR energy…

    I would really appreciate an expert’s opinion on the trade-offs between these two major models:

    1) Build reactor systems in a factory and sell complete/partial units to large utilities and nations (may include full power conversion system or may not…)

    2) Build-Own-Operate (licence, fuel, and decommission too) and sell electricity-process heat-desalination contracts

    How significant are the additional up front capital and operational costs of the second method?

    Does option 2 really guarantee a more secure market for the sale of reactors?

    Given the potential for low-cost energy to provide services of such externalized benefit to their customer-nations; would you really want to lock people in to purchasing power at equivalent prices to coal or natural gas, as the second method proposes?

    Perhaps the customer would rather pay more up front as in the first for reasons of national security?

    How does the method of monetization effect cash flows of the business?

    …Other trade-offs I missed? I would love to hear what the experts think. Who would be the best at answering questions like these?

    1. The commercial nuclear power industry in the US is the only business I am aware of that makes its customers take full financial risk for a prototype. There was an excellent article a few months back about the differences between the civilian aviation industry and commercial nuclear power. But even Boeing develops and flight tests prototypes of their newest aircraft before delivering them to their customers. It is true that many customers pre-order new models of aircraft. But they can do this because Boeing has a good track record. Plus, their designs are evolutionary. If they proposed a supersonic commercial aircraft, they would probably face the same problems that new nuclear faces.

      The AP1000 is attempting to use the modular approach for large PWRs. However, this has not helped in streamlining the construction. The initial customers are bearing a large part of the risk for this, although subsequent customers (if any) might benefit if the kinks get worked out.

      If I were head of a utility considering new electrical generating options, I would have great difficulty considering nuclear designs that differed from a currently operating commercial station that did not have an operating prototype. I see many interesting concepts, but no one wants to go beyond computer models and artwork.

      This would suggest that the StarCore business model may be the only realistic way to see future nuclear power developed in the US. But all I see is artwork.

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