Robert Hargraves is a co-founder of ThorCon International, a startup company that aims to build thorium-based nuclear reactors. Robert talks to Hargraves about ThorCon’s technology, why shipyards are the best bet for scaling up production of nuclear reactors, the myth of “net zero” emissions, and how companies like Google and Amazon are hiding their carbon dioxide emissions by buying renewable energy credits.

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:05
Recording 321 Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert rice. on this show we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And my guest today is Robert Hargraves. He’s a co founder of Thor con International, which is a startup nuclear company. Robert, welcome to the power hungry podcast. Thank you glad to be here. Now, I didn’t warn you about this. And but I the custom on this podcast is for guests to introduce themselves. So I’ve given your title. But imagine you’ve just arrived somewhere and you’re at a meeting or something and nobody there knows you and you have 45 or 60 seconds to tell them who you are. Go. Go.

Robert Hargraves 0:52
I have a checkered career. I majored in mathematics at Dartmouth, got my PhD in physics at Brown, came back to Dartmouth taught mathematics introduced computer science. And I founded a software company. And my career ended up being a vice president MetLife. And then being a consultant in information technology management. Eventually, you’re running Information Technology, a medical devices company, and then retiring in 2000. So since retirement, which simply means no money, I’ve been working really hard on the idea of solving our energy crisis, our global energy crisis. And one of the more recent things is becoming a founder of Oregon International, a company that is trying to develop inexpensive, reliable power plants to serve the developing world. In addition, I here at Dartmouth College, give occasional courses in the continuing education program and sometimes at the engineering school, I give a talk or two. Good, okay, well, that’s

Robert Bryce 1:59
a good Roundup. So I want to talk about Thor Khan. But before I am one or the other. We’ve known each other for a while, in fact, I quote you in my new book question of power and talk a little bit about Thor Khan in in a question of power. But before that, I want to talk about this piece that you published in The Wall Street Journal, some weeks back, it was March 7, the title is net zero carbon emissions more like not zero. And your concluding point you made here is that net zero is a new word for indulgences to emit co2. Tell me, tell me what what led you to write this piece? And you mentioned Amazon, Google, and then that in your view, this is a kind of a, I don’t want to use the word swindle. But that bit of head fake, would tell me what your what your point is there.

Robert Hargraves 2:46
It’s an example of wordsmithing is taking you to two extremes. Certainly the people who are concerned about global warming want to have less co2 in the atmosphere. And so you would think that they would endorse zero co2, or absolute zero. But in fact, what’s happened is, the argument has been changed to be net zero, that is people say, Well, we can emit some emissions. But if we reduce those emissions somewhere else in the world, the net is the same. So the whole focus is now on the net side, rather than the zero side. We have all these schemes to trade the green credits among the various polluters, if you will believe that co2 is a pollutant that are dominating all the conversations. So in

Robert Bryce 3:46
interrupt your point is that it and you must make the specific point in the piece that you talk about, that they are using renewable energy credits to To achieve this, this this claim, right that Amazon or Google are running a data center in a certain neighborhood, but they’re buying renewable energy credits from somewhere else that may be 1000 miles away and claiming that that energy is their energy is that was that the just that

Robert Hargraves 4:09
is what’s happening? If you really press the naysayers, see equivalent to the same thing. But that renewable energy credits were used in that way, sort of as a marketing tool by these companies. They’re also used by states like the state of Massachusetts, which mandates that a certain amount of their electric power must come from, say, solar panels. And they don’t have enough solar panels in the state to do that. So they buy solar renewable energy credits, and there are many little marketplaces I save little millions of dollars for varieties of renewable energy, whether it be when or photovoltaic, solar, or community solar, or rooftop solar, all these things are trading money. Back and forth. Biden’s latest plan has yet another form of such credits, not not yet fully formulated. But we’re focusing on kind of accounting. And if we look at co2 emissions, they keep going up and up and up. But there’s a lot of money that continues to change hands, as we do all sort of accounting is taking place.

Robert Bryce 5:25
So you’re then let me just make, see if I can, because I, I understand your argument, and other people have made it. But you’re just saying that this is an accounting trick, a marketing, you use the word marketing tool, but it’s an accounting isn’t

Robert Hargraves 5:37
marketing? Yes, it is, of course, because everyone wants to be clean and green nowadays. And so it makes sense for these companies like Google is going to have large data centers, who say what we’re going to offset our electric power is generated by a nearby natural gas plant or something that by helping others with their energy needs elsewhere in the world. A common example is reforestation. In places like Brazil, people say if we could plant more trees, they could absorb carbon. And that would offset some of the initiatives that is being are being generated by our supplying natural gas plant. So the question sort of is, who keeps track of this market place? Is it on reputable accounting firm like Deloitte or Pricewaterhouse or something like that? But the people who enforced all these rules are I called cheerleaders. They’re the companies I’d never heard of Veera gold standard, Greenie climate, these are the people who business is to go to industries, we say, I want to be great. And say, I’ll sell you or show you where to buy real energy credits. So there’s a whole marketplace in this sort of thing that is taking place and it’s diverting the focus on where is the energy actually coming from? Is it the only sources of energy really, that can provide the world with inexpensive, clean power, our hydro, or nuclear power, wind and solar work, but are intermittent, and so can’t really drive an industry?

Robert Bryce 7:34
Well, so that’s and that’s the nub of your point here, your and you ended by you make this point you read when she said, net zero is a new word for indulgences to emit co2. So I see when he, when I fly haven’t been flying much lately, but I can buy these carbon credits and somehow get absolved of your guilt. There’s something red smacks of some religiosity here doesn’t

Robert Hargraves 7:57
grow. And and nomenclature, net zero is the name that appears in almost every news article, we read about this. I’ll give another example. Natural gas. It used to be that we part our city’s gas mains, with city gas, which was done by heating coal up really hot and spraying water on it, and that methane and carbon monoxide was transmitted through the pipes to run off stoves. But when the oil industry got bigger, and we had excess gas coming out of oil wells, this someone dreamed up the great idea of piping at the cities to burn stoves and furnaces. And the marketing term was not methane, or butane, it was natural gas, because it’s a natural effluent from an oil, great marketing, same great marketing being applied to clean coal, or carbon capture, or net zero. So we have to look beyond the simple words and say, what’s really happening? Well, that’s a great,

Robert Bryce 9:08
it’s a good breakdown. And we can talk more about Nat gas. But let’s let’s move to where your real focus is these days, which is and I think the thrust of some of what you wrote about in the in your piece in The Wall Street Journal is, yeah, you’re you’ve got these accounting tricks, you got these marketing tools. But if I’m reading your involvement in work on your point is we have to go nuclear in a big way. And that that is the if we’re going to be serious about co2 emissions, then we need huge amounts of new nuclear capacity. And that’s the gist of what you’re working on with third con is that is that fair?

Robert Hargraves 9:41
That’s exactly the point. Um, we believe strongly that nuclear is a great solution because it can be delivered can deliver reliable energy that’s potentially very inexpensive. Now, our experience most recently in the US has been miserable. The only nuclear power plant that’s being built is the one in Georgia. And it’s very expensive three, four times the original budget, they cost on the order of $10 per watt of capacity to generate electric power. And this is really on a site, a natural gas plant. And you’re

Robert Bryce 10:23
right, and you’re and you’re talking about plant Vogel, which is being built by Southern Company in Georgia. Right. You’re a guest. far over budget far over over the expected timeline. It’s been. I mean, I think it’s my Georgia Power folks might not like it, but it’s been rather a disaster for them in terms of the the economic impact and so on. And this is after the cancellation of the the Sumner plant in South Carolina, right, which could cost ratepayers $10 billion. So, but your point about nuclear being? You said the word miserable. And I think that the Yeah, we’re seeing a miserable outcome now with nuclear reactors closing. So what is Thor Khan doing that’s going to change this paradigm? That’s because the issue is building nuclear at scale and doing it quickly. Is that is that right? That

Robert Hargraves 11:13
that is the issue. It’s just difficult to see that from the US point of view right now, because it’s been so expensive. Let me review the US just for a minute. It’s been expensive because of the regulatory costs, because of the fact that we don’t have a supply chain within the US to do that, because we hadn’t built nuclear plants in so long. And because the original contractor was developing, it was really incompetent, just unfortunate. At the same time, in South Korea, nuclear power plants have been being built for a third of the price that we’re paying for the Georgia box, we’ll plant a third. And those companies in South Korea are just completed for such nuclear power plants. In the United Arab Republic, we’re about that price, about $3 per watt of capacity. So that’s the Baraka plant,

Robert Bryce 12:07
right? The grantor plant, the L bracket, and the first reactors there just recently started up I as I recall, the first day, I didn’t start producing power in unison, United Arab Emirates, right,

Robert Hargraves 12:17
right. And they’re slowly bringing the others up. And I think they’ve all been very basically completed, but they’re in the process of testing, and commissioning, and so on. Well, that’s got to happen. The our point is that, we need to do that worldwide. I mean, the world’s use of energy today is about 3000 gigawatts on average. And that’s mostly consumed by the EU, the us a lot of China and so but we have a whole developing world in Southeast Asia and Africa, that’s gonna want more electric power. And today, they burn more coal. We’ve mentioned I think that China just built last year 38 gigawatts more of coal fired power plants, as did India, all these company countries, they need that energy for their people. They want to grow their commerce, they want to grow their capabilities, to refine steel, to make cars always to make vaccines, all these things require a lot of electricity. And

Robert Bryce 13:27
they’re not to interrupt, Bob, because, Robert, and that’s it right? That it’s silkies iron law, right, Roger pilkey Jr’s iron like countries are going to act in their own self interest. They’re not co2 emissions are not their first concern. It’s the health and welfare of their people and governments that don’t attend to that don’t last very long. I mean, that’s that’s his fundamental point in the iron law, which is, is it is that fair to say that’s why the Chinese are building so much coal capacity?

Robert Hargraves 13:52
Yes, it is. Yes, it is. You know, before we pick on China to hard understand Chinese also erased or taken down or, or destroyed a lot of coal power plants, sure, because of the old ones where it is efficient. But if you build a new coal fired power plant, you can use pulverized coal use high temperature, steam, and so on and make it more efficient. So, you know, we could have been doing that for a while and still be burning coal but with less co2 emissions, but we haven’t. So our objective is to provide that energy with the least expensive power plant that we can that can be mass produced. In our case, shipyards, the founders of our company, have a background in ship building. They designed and oversaw the building of the world’s largest supertankers at the time, perhaps 1520 years ago. And they use the same technologies for design work that we’re using today. A farka

Robert Bryce 15:02
so these are the so these are the very large crude carriers. vlccs right what exactly the, for the for those giant giant, giant oil tankers so but this is the one of the main things and I’m glad we talked about the journal piece and but this it seems to me the challenge for any new technology is being able to scale it up and to be able to scale them and and and why is the internal combustion engine achieve such incredible efficiency gains? Will we make them by the 10s of millions every year right? And they get little better and a little better and a little better? But if what I’m hearing you say though, is that we’re building nuclear reactors in onesies and twosies and we need to build them in 10s and hundreds and that right so why are shipyards This is the key question. So why are shipyards the way to go here? What is it that shipyards offer that building bespoke projects like the ap 1000 at plant Vogel or or the the European pressurized reactor and fallen vieler in France or some of these others? What’s wrong with that model and what is the shipyard model cure?

Robert Hargraves 16:07
This ship yard model adapts to the sort of design that we have put together in the liquid fuel power plants. The shipyards have industrial experience in producing large tonnage of ships every year, we have gone to a large shipyard and gotten estimates of the price and the time it takes to bend and weld and put together that much steel. And it’s less than one year for one of these plants that we have outfitting to do their D interrupt here. So

Robert Bryce 16:45
just an interrupt a lot went on this podcast. So you said you’ve gone to shipyards and I’m assuming that the biggest shipyards are in China, Korea and Japan right now, right

Robert Hargraves 16:56
and the three largest ones are in South Korea. And we have now a informal arrangement with the SME Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, which is I think, perhaps the very largest to be the engineering procurement construction contractor for our products. So, the advantage of the shipyard is again that the skills are there, because they build multiple ships every year. All the specialized machinery for steel building building is there. This scale idea is such that we have designed our ships to fit in the slips that the shipyards use for building their care cargo carriers, their oil tankers and so on. So we haven’t we’re not just designing a power plant. We’re designing power plants that can be scaled and mass produced. We believe we could a single shipyard could produce dozens of these ships, these power plants these holes every year, each one is capable of generating 500 megawatts of power.

Robert Bryce 18:13
So to follow on that point, because that’s the key here, isn’t it? I mean that when I look around the world, and I’m adamantly pro nuclear but adamantly pro nuclear for you know, more than a decade writing about it all this time, but the problem is getting at the scale up. And in the meantime, while we’re waiting for scale, waiting new ideas waiting for paper reactors to become real reactors. What are countries all over the world doing was we just discussed we’re building they’re building coal plants or building gas fired power plants. But what you just said was that a single shipyard could build potentially dozens of power ships, right? These would be ocean going vehicle ocean going vessels. It would be towed or under self propelled, but dozens of them in a single shipyard at 500 megawatts each. So you’re able to produce gigawatt scale nuclear in a single shipyard every year.

Robert Hargraves 19:03
Yes, our shipyard decided to dsme can probably produce 30 gigawatts of power plants a year.

Robert Bryce 19:10
Again, there’s outfitting which would be as much as the coal plants that China deployed this year is your last year.

Robert Hargraves 19:15
That’s correct. That’s correct. Now, the shipyard can’t build the most expensive part. The most expensive part is the steam turbine generator system that converts heat to electricity and, but the temperature that our product our power plant creates is high pressure steam at 550 centigrade and so on, which is the same spec that is used for coal fired plants. So, there is going to be from our product demand or steam turbine power plants, but that can be met by the companies that are providing the steam turbines. Now to the coal fired power plant constructors.

Robert Bryce 20:03
So those are those steam turbine generators, those machines would be built by alstrom or Alstom or GE or or Mitsubishi Heavy district, those those guys that we’re talking to Yes. So those are the companies that you, you, you wouldn’t be able to build the reactors. And I want to talk about the reactor design in just a minute. But you’d be able to build the nuclear reactors putting out high pressure, high power, high temperature steam, which increases your enthalpic efficiency, right. But then, and then the component that you wouldn’t build in the shipyard you’d have to source from other places. And then you drop that in the ship and you’re off. You’re on the high seas ready, ready to go. Is that is that is that? That is correct. Sounds simple. Yeah, if I can interrupt just to remind everyone who’s listening. My guest is Robert Hargraves. He’s a co founder of Thor Khan International. They’re available here. You can find them on on the web at Thor con He’s also the author of a book called electrifying our world which is, you can see all of that info. Bob, Greg, if I’m wrong, electrifying, our just write the word con power, calm and electrifying our Okay, so let me jump back. So you’ve given us kind of the overview of what Thor Khan wants to do. And I want to talk about what the issue is, here are the technology here the high temperature low pressure reactor, but tell me when you started Thor con and what, how long you’ve been around? How much money do you have? How much money do you need?

Robert Hargraves 21:38
Well, forcados started about five years ago, we’ve had investments from people who were interested in solving the world’s energy problem, particularly energy poverty in the developing nations. The issue of scale is an important one. We, the most recent investor is Chris Anderson, who’s the founder of the TED Talks, and what attracted him was the scale capability. He’s interested in working to solve this problem. And, and so he was attracted by the fact that we are a small outfit that we focus strongly on safety as everyone does in this business now, and that we have a scalable product, and it meets the one important point, it’s essential. And that is cheaper than coal. It’s got to be less expensive for the power plant.

Robert Bryce 22:45
And the electricity has got to be less expensive, if the developing nations are going to adapt and adopt this new technology. So when you say cheaper than coal, so we’re talking, what, three, four cents a kilowatt hour? what’s the what’s that term? Yeah, where

Robert Hargraves 23:00
do we estimate and broadcast, if you will, that we should be able to mass production to produce these power plants at 1.2 dollars per water capacity, which is about the same as a natural gas plant. coal plants, when you add all the scrubbers and things to it are going to be around $2. And the coal plants cost a lot of money because they have to handle so much coal 10,000 tons a day or somesuch. Terrible number. We expect to produce the power coming out of the planet, three cents per kilowatt hour. That’s before any government taxes, fees, or whatever, and so on. But the

Robert Bryce 23:42
three cents would be competitive with pretty much any technology anywhere in the world right

Robert Hargraves 23:46
now. anywhere in the world. Yes. Even natural gas is really tough, though. And if you were in Texas, where the natural gas power applied on a pipeline, it didn’t have to go far, you could probably be three cents a kilowatt hour, but most of the road cannot.

Robert Bryce 24:05
Right. And a lot of solar and wind promoters say oh, well, we can meet that. But it’s an intermittent source. It’s not an it’s not a baseload source of power

Robert Hargraves 24:14
is not And not only that, the prices that we see quoted by outfits, like Bloomberg, new energy and so on, forget a lot of costs, and they forget the almost two cents per kilowatt hour. Credit the federal government gives, for example, if there’s a little cost advantage, they forget about the cost of all the undersea cables that have to take power from offshore wind and bring it into the grid and so on. So, but the biggest disadvantage of those sources is the intermittency of coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, all can provide the kind of continuous energy you need to run a potter manufacturing plant to run a hospital. But if we’re

Robert Bryce 25:02
gonna have a modern economy, right, exactly, yeah. So let me I want to, like I said, I want to talk about the the the the high temperature, low pressure reactor, the liquid, the molten fluoride salt that you’re planning to the fuel cycle. But I want to talk before we get to that about the ship power ship itself. Because in in a question of power in my documentary juice, we talked about power ships, and we saw them in Lebanon, offshore Beirut. And these were power ships that were Turkish built, owned by guarantees holdings, and they were running on heavy fuel oil. And they were just big reciprocating engines inside, and they were highly polluting. But power ships like those are very common around the world. So what is the it? I know the answer, but please explain why. Why is that power ship model so potent as a way to deliver electricity, particularly in developing countries? What is the power ship offer that you have the advantage that you don’t get by trying to put something on shore? One is the

Robert Hargraves 26:09
rapidity of installation. We claim that if all permits are in place, we could eventually provide a ship with 500 megawatts of power in two years from the point of order. Because the shipping company, I’m sorry, the shipbuilding company can do it in about one year, we need some work at the site. For example, powerlines, for example, the cooling water channels and so on have to be built to allow the steam generators to work properly, and so on. So that’s the big advantage because it means it’s not going to be a regime change. Oh, in the middle of building such a power plant, I mean, the Philippines built a power plant, it took forever. And there’s a lot of corruption that ended up siphoning off money. And the power plant just about completed but never put into operation is the Marcos regime failed. And so one of the advantages of a power ship is if you were really adventuresome, you could inventory them and put them in places like Lebanon at the times that they need the power. And our case, we’re expecting that the power ship will be located semi permanently, at a location has been prepared in advance. But it does mean we don’t have five or 10 years of site preparation and site work and protestations and requests for additional funds from corrupt officials and so on. So we insulate ourselves from that by being able to deliver the product rapidly.

Robert Bryce 27:59
And by anchoring it offshore. I mean, this is a point that we that we made in juice my the director Tyson Culver, and I made will so yeah, you have a power ship. And if the customer doesn’t pay the bill, well, you take the power ship and leave, right you pull the anchor up and go home.

Robert Hargraves 28:14
Right? Well, yeah, in our case, it’s a little more than pulling up, the anchor is pretty firmly connected to the ground. But yes, it’s a potential to be able to do that. Yeah.

Robert Bryce 28:26
But the other isn’t it the other advantage here, though, that you’ve got so much of the world’s population lives in coastal cities, right, the biggest cities are often coastal, and that you have the ability then to float up the reactor right there to the shore. And you you know, you’re close to the population center is that is that the other advantage,

Robert Hargraves 28:43
right, and the largest rivers in the world, are also amenable to transit of power plants such as ours. The other thing to keep in mind is that there’s new tech nology for power lines, high voltage DC power lines in China transmit power over 1000 kilometers. And it’s pretty inexpensive, in the sense of nominal losses in power at that million volts DC.

Robert Bryce 29:13
system. Sure. But those are hard to build and costly to build. I mean, they’re not they are, and especially here in the United States, people don’t like it. And so we don’t see interstate transmission, high voltage transmission being built pretty much anywhere in the United States. So right, which is the other point that I think is key and understanding the importance of nuclear Is that you, you can cite a high output generation station close to population centers, and you don’t necessarily need a lot of high voltage transmission. But that’s one of the advantages as well as the power ship, right. But you don’t need a great deal of transmission to get it to a population set.

Robert Hargraves 29:49
Right. So I gotta go back to Roger pilc. He’s iron law again. Yeah, sure. You gotta keep thinking about that. Here in the US. We have enough electricity No, there’s not a great demand for more and more and more, as there is in China, as there is an Indonesia and other developing nations. So the motivation for the regulatory authorities and and the governments of these countries is such, what can you do for me not? Can we stop here, which is, but it seems to be in the US.

Robert Bryce 30:24
Right? Well, and I think that’s a key point, you know, I have a slide that I, when I’m presenting electricity demand in the US has been flat for 15 years. I mean, it’s just not growing at all, despite significant increases in population. So but this idea of nuclear power shifts, you’re not the first one to do this. Right. The rasa Tom has already deployed a nuclear power ship in Siberia and P vac right, I forgot the name of the ship. But this has been done now. It’s not necessarily a new idea that you’re pursuing here. You the Russians, beat you to the punch with a little bit different technology. Can you describe that?

Robert Hargraves 30:58
There’s a smaller our ships there for coastal communities on the north coast of Russia. That’s, that’s true. The US too, had our ships we put them on barges. The US Army did that. We floated one down to the Panama Canal to provide power down there at about the time that george bush was born in Panama now,

Robert Bryce 31:23
now that Okay, now I don’t not familiar with that. But the rasa Tom power ship that those are two, if memory serves reactors that were designed for submarines or icebreakers, right is 70 megawatts electric something like that? I think so. Not bad for me, I believe so. But the Panama power ship you’re talking about? was at a reactor was at fuel oil, or what was

Robert Hargraves 31:44
it was a nuclear power plant without a barge that was run by the US in the Panama Canal Zone?

Robert Bryce 31:50
Hmm. Okay, well, this I vaguely remember this now that you say it and about when would that have been in the nightbot? Is it 50 years ago? Yeah. Okay, gotcha. Okay, so let’s turn to Thor Khan’s design. And there are I’ve had a number of guests on the power on the power hungry podcast talking about their, you know, which technologies they think are going to succeed. Rod Adams and others talking about it. Oh, the woman from oklo, who’s from Oklahoma, whose name is is slipping my mind at the moment. She’s one of the co founders there. And oklo has an interesting design. But so you’re telling me about the chemistry of the Thor con design and why that matters? What is it? What steps what’s the contrast and ap 1000 or light water reactor with the reactor that you’re planning to deploy at Thor Khan?

Robert Hargraves 32:43
Sure, when you build a light water reactor, you have fuel rods, and they’re close enough together that you can have a nuclear chain reaction generating the heat to take that heat away, in order to transmit it to a power conversion system, you need some kind of heat transfer fluid. Water is a great one, but it boils easily over 100 centigrade. So what you need to do to keep the water solid or liquid rather, is pressurize it. So these power plants typically are pressurized to perhaps 100 or 150 atmospheres to keep the water from boiling. So that that liquid can be transferred to the power conversion system. And there are two of them that are in common use the so called boiling water reactor and the pressurized water reactor, they’re both at high pressure, but the pressurized water reactors a little bit more so the water stays as a fluid through the whole circuit. Now, in order to do that, you need a pressurized large pressurized vessel and perhaps six inches of steel walls to contain that 150 or so atmospheres of pressure. In our case, in order to take the heat away, we use a liquid which is molten salt. In our case, they are fluorides of beryllium and sodium. The advantage of molten salt as opposed to water is that it has a much higher boiling point. We don’t come close to the boiling point of that child of the salt which is around 1500 C. Not only that, in order to kind of design instead of having fuel rods we literally dissolve the fuel in our case uranium and thorium in the molten salt. The advantage of this technique is that we can get to higher temperatures than you can with a pressurized water reactor. We can get the temperatures of 700 C are coming out of the top of the reactor vessel Which goes through a series of heat exchangers to make eventually 550 degrees C steam and high pressure which we use to drive the electric conversion systems. So the other

Robert Bryce 35:12
advantage is that so and so but you don’t the key there is that you don’t have to pressurize that that working fluid, the correct the working liquid, we

Robert Hargraves 35:21
don’t have to pressurize it, we bring up the pressure,

Robert Bryce 35:24
you have to pump it but you don’t but you have to pump it but it’s not but it’s at low pressure. So if you have some, some exit or something you’re not going to risk some kind of explosion or accidental release. Is that the is that the gist? That’s right,

Robert Hargraves 35:37
we bring it to about three bar pressure above atmosphere to make the the centrifugal pump that moves the salt, keep from cavitating. If you ever had an outboard motor on the boat, and you make a quick turn, you’ll hear the thing buzz up sometimes right when the prop goes too fast in the water can’t cling to the propeller blades, right? That so you need in our case, just enough pressure to keep that from happening. And three bar

Robert Bryce 36:06
and three bar. Go ahead. You’re a physics guy to explain what three bar is.

Robert Hargraves 36:11
Well, one virus about 15 psi s the pressure of the atmosphere. Okay, so three bars, three atmospheres more pressure, okay, the same as a garden hose that I use for watering your lawn.

Robert Bryce 36:27
So roughly three atmospheres of pressure inside this the working fluid, the working fluid loop. And and by having that higher temperature you get better efficiency out of the steam turbine, right. That’s the key for supercritical ultra supercritical power plants, right that they can write in coal that they operate at a higher temperature, therefore you get more work out of the fuel that you’re burning. So that and so and that but explain how you dissolve that this is one of the I’ve heard about Molten Salt Reactors a long time. You’re using regular sodium chloride and you’re mixing in some uranium and thorium in there. Is it low enriched, high enriched, what’s the quality of the uranium and the thorium? Yes, it is not sodium fluoride in our case, sodium fluoride, I’m sorry. Yes.

Robert Hargraves 37:14
And, and also beryllium fluoride, just because the two of them mix the just the right proportion, have a rather low, lower melting point, then them individually. And so I’m sorry, after backup, the question is

Robert Bryce 37:36
what what is this idea that explained the mix, you know, what’s the what’s in the cake mix here it’s so it’s okay, sodium fluoride, sodium and right and then you toss in some uranium and thorium,

Robert Hargraves 37:50
as fluorides, uranium you f4 and also thorium. Same idea. So these then in the molten salt are really, it’s an ionic structure. It’s an ionic, this is not a solid anymore. The fluorine isn’t linked to any particular uranium or beryllium atom. But the various ions in this liquid salt, or is almost like a plasma, they float around and are illiquid. The reaction takes place there. But just as in a light water reactor, we need to slow down the neutrons. And so the key in all these Molten Salt Reactors is some sort of moderator. In a light water reactor, it’s the hydrogen atoms in the water in our reactor is carbon, it’s graphite, that is in the same vessel with the molten salts.

Robert Bryce 38:59
And by moderating that allows you moderating the reaction allows you to moderate the temperature inside the reactor, is that

Robert Hargraves 39:05
right? But it really moderates the speed of the neutron, think of the neutrons is going by another uranium atom a high speed, if we lower the speed enough, there’s a higher chance that that neutron will interact and cause efficient to take place in that atom.

Robert Bryce 39:23
I see. So there are four compounds then in this in the cake mix here. I’m yeah, I’m I made cookies last night. So go ahead. What are those compounds?

Robert Hargraves 39:34
thorium, uranium? Really? and sodium? All as fluorides

Robert Bryce 39:40
Okay, gotcha. So they’re they’re all is fluoride. So they’re, they’re compounds right? via fluoride is attached to each one of those different each of those different elements. Correct. Okay. So and so what and why, if you say then that this can run, the reactor itself is replaced on a four year service schedule. The salt is replaced and resumed and removed and replaced on an eight year cycle. So, the can itself the thing that controls that where the React reactions occur is in a big steel can, that has to be replaced every four years and the and but the fuel can be replaced every eight years explain how that works.

Robert Hargraves 40:21
Okay, in our case, we replaced the can because it’s made of stainless steel we 16 every four years because we know from experiments that Ms at Oakridge that we know the life is at least that we don’t worry about having a lifetime of parts that’s going to last the full 80 years. parts that are neutron irradiated are replaced every four years because we know from experience, that that’s the safe lifetime,

Robert Bryce 40:50
and the metal fatigues over that time period. So you need to you need it might release. We don’t know

Robert Hargraves 40:55
it’s could have a longer life, but we won’t know that. And so we we take us cans out and begin to inspect them and see if the life is the shortest for years.

Robert Bryce 41:06
And how big are these cans? Bob?

Robert Hargraves 41:07
Well, it could be you made the four meters, right? five meters wide and up by this high.

Robert Bryce 41:18
So it’d be roughly a square root? Well,

Robert Hargraves 41:21
they’re actually sort of an oval a sphere is what it looks like in the diagrams.

Robert Bryce 41:25
Okay, so it’s not actually like a like a can of corn or soup. It’s more it’s a, you call them a can but I’m envisioning a cylinder but you’re saying it’s not necessarily cylinder, right?

Robert Hargraves 41:35
The pot inside that contains the reaction is the blade sphere. It’s placed in a big can like a campbell soup can you write? Because it also includes in the air the pump? And then what’s the primary heat exchanger? All the parts that potentially touch radioactive materials are in that can so the whole thing is a replaceable unit.

Robert Bryce 41:59
And it’s about five meters on a side, then something like 1518 feet, something like that. Yeah. Okay. So in but so you have to replace the can but the fuel last longer than the can or at least that’s your projection right now.

Robert Hargraves 42:12
Right? Right, we use enriched uranium enriched to almost 20%. Because we want to use have a rather long lifetime. As as we add more fuel to the power plant, we have to take out some so the the most efficient way to do it in our case, is to use what’s sometimes called high assay. Low enriched uranium at almost 20% you to 35, which is the fiscal part of the uranium.

Robert Bryce 42:50
And how does that compare at 20%? enriched in light water reactors are less than that single digits? Are they not as

Robert Hargraves 42:58
reactors modern was around 5%. Okay, so it’s more.

Robert Bryce 43:02
Gotcha. And Is that it? How easy is that to come by? I haven’t I haven’t bought any uranium lately. Where? Where do you get it? Who

Robert Hargraves 43:12
know what manufacturer? Is it just not? Okay. Right. So it’s not easy. But we’ve talked to the investment companies that, you know, they will continue to run those centrifuges for longer times in order to bring the enrichment up from 5% to 20%. As long as there’s a market for it, and, you know, they’re going to look to us and say, Well, how many of these plants are you going to build? And Shall we take the risk of changing our production to accommodate you? So it’s a big negotiation that takes place, the very first plant we start up may well have to run on 5% enriched uranium just because of the aeration companies, right? Want to say, well, let’s see how it works First,

Robert Bryce 43:55
that’s what that’s what the market has now. So you’re gonna have to have some bespoke uranium back to for your optimum operating characteristics. Is that is that fair? Correct. Correct. Okay.

Robert Hargraves 44:07
So now the fission products are come out of the reaction or stay within the salt. Okay, the act is so yeah, well, that’s the act and I so much of the problem, but the cesium, iodine, and so on, stay within the salt. So eventually, the salt bills out, and you’re right, I forgot about the actinides. We also make plutonium out of up to 38. Because as we radiate up to 38 atoms, we make a better byproduct, plutonium, which is a good fuel. But there are a lot of isotopes of the plutonium that aren’t so good. And in our case, we have to be sure that we don’t With so much plutonium in the salt that it begins to precipitate, we want to stay liquid. Right. And

Robert Bryce 45:07
so this is one of the this is now this is getting a little bit into the weeds, but I just want to touch on it briefly here. And, again, my guest is Robert Hargraves. He’s a co founder of Thor con International, you can find them at door con power COMM And you can find his other work at electrifying our But one of the arguments that I’ve heard over and over for thorium reactors is that they don’t produce as many actinides don’t produce plutonium. But what you’re saying here, if I understand you, right, is that the salt mixture that you’re you’re planning to use would actually produce some plutonium that then would have to be refined out when you when you change out the fuel? Is that right?

Robert Hargraves 45:43
Yes. Now, we don’t anticipate that regulatory agencies are going to allow us to process the plutonium out for many years. So we plan on inventory to use fuel in a special place aboard the ship. For as long as 80 years. Our our hope plan is that people will understand that it makes sense that under observations of IAEA or somebody, we do process that eventually to reconstitute and reuse the valuable uranium and plutonium that’s in the used fuel. But our objective is always cost. We want to produce electricity at the least possible cost. And so we’re not planning at this point in our lives, to do any kind of reprocessing of the fuel, we can make that three cents per kilowatt hour number, with the design that we have that leaves the valuable bill used fuel in special tax support the whole show.

Robert Bryce 46:58
Let me let me just challenge you a little bit on that. Because that’s, as you know, the anti nuclear forces are very strong. And they said, Well, we can’t solve the waste problem. Well, you can’t solve the waste problem, you can’t build it, you know, and, and a number of states in the US, as you well know, have prohibitions on building new reactors until the waste issue is solved. So I’m just going to be clear here, what you’re saying is, Thor con hasn’t solved the waste problem, and you’re in and you’re just gonna say, well, we’ll deal with that later. And I’m not being tongue. I’m not being facetious here. But that’s, that’s the gist of what you’re saying, Is that fair?

Robert Hargraves 47:31
Yeah, um, but but the waste problem has been solved many times. And you’re right, there are advocates for no nuclear power plants because of the waste. But I mean, we can put it in Yucca Mountain, we can vary it in deep wells that the oil industry has taught us how to drill there, there are options to do that. It’s only a matter of political will to pick one or the other. And the other point is that you can just leave that casks, in those concrete casks above the ground forever and ever, every, maybe every one or 200 years or reprocess it to make it smaller. That that’s possible. But there’s not much of it. That’s the other thing he goes on to understand. We mined about 60, maybe 50,000 tons of uranium, every year, we mined about 50,000 tons of arsenic every year. When we might have uranium, we keep track of every kilogram. We know where it is, we know is that concrete cask and so on. Now, I challenge the industry to say, you know where your arsenic goes, that lasts forever. It’s in the environment. It’s in products. It’s somewhere, we don’t trace it, which is dangerous. arsenic.

Robert Bryce 48:52
It’s interesting. Uranium, that scale is you only have 50,000 tonnes of uranium. I’m just on the top my head and guessing probably 50,000 tons of coal mined every day or more than that. I don’t know, we use billions of tons of coal 10,000 tons of coal per day in a coal plant. Right. No. single coal plant. Right. Yeah. Right. So let me follow up on the issue of fuel. And one of the things that is kind of it that I’ve thought about a lot, and we’ve talked about on the power hungry podcast before is the issue of government involvement here. And I know that you’ve been talking with the Indonesian government because it’s an archipelago and of course, it would be a perfect place for power shift because of the difficulties that we’ve talked about, right? You can flow, float the barge right up there and hook it up. But it only is the question this way. How it’s gonna be difficult for you to say, well trust us on the fuel you’re gonna have to have government involvement. So where’s the US fell have failed on supporting nuclear where the Chinese and Russians have succeeded because those countries are now dominating the nuclear business globally. What’s what will it take? Here’s the question, What will it take for The us to get back in the game when it comes to deploying nuclear at scale.

Robert Hargraves 50:08
No have to do that have to look hard at why lavado plan has been so expensive, now have to look at companies like us, who five years ago, went to the NRC and went to the Department of Energy and presented our plans to do these kinds of testing in Redmond, Washington. And being and learning that it would take at least a decade and a billion dollars in the NRC rule on whether you can start building one. Now, you can’t as adventures, raise a billion dollars on a bet that the NRC will approve, you’re building the pilot plant, there’s no way we could do that in the US. So the whole regulatory system has to be changed to accommodate the fact that radiation release and all that dangerous, you know, it just it just isn’t. We use it all the time in medicine. You know, a typical radiation treatment is 60,000 millisieverts to treat a cancer 60,000. And yet, in Yukon mountain, we’re forced to engineer a system that wouldn’t allow as much as a 10th of one Milla. Siebert overhaul year to contaminate the living space of a tribe that couldn’t read the warning signs. Right. Right.

Robert Bryce 51:44
That’s interesting. The regulatory regime is just a mismatch for what is a mismatch.

Robert Hargraves 51:48
It’s terrible. And it’s partly on the basis of fear. People say, well, it’s if nuclear power is so fearful, we’re going to keep you safe. Japan made the same mistake. They said they had a rule that said originally when the Fukushima accident happened that, you know, you shouldn’t have exposure more than 20 millisieverts per year. And you know, what happened there? And then eventually, they backtracked, and they said, Oh, well, we’re sorry, we’ll make the rule one millisieverts. So that the choice of regulatory limits is political, meant to appease people who are upset, rather than scientists. That’s, that’s our problem. The we’re not, we’re not, we’re using what’s sometimes called the precautionary principle, but might harm us. So let’s make the room more stringent. I’ll give you two examples, just recently, the j&j vaccine, right, because blood clots, chances are getting one of the blood clots was one of the minigun. So we suspend that. And during that suspension, the harm caused by people who didn’t get the shot is exceeds the harm that might have happened from book loss by an order of magnitude. So it wasn’t science at the table. It was politics. People said, Look, if somebody dies because I authorized a shot, it’s my fault. But if they die from COVID, that’s a natural disease. It doesn’t matter. Right.

Robert Bryce 53:36
It’s Chris Kieffer and I talked about this on the podcast A while ago, he’s a medical doctor in Toronto. He is the decouple podcast that, that there’s an ear and I’ve had Jared Geraldine Thomas from the Imperial College London talking about this with from the Chernobyl tissue bank, that there’s just this irrational fear of radiation that is leading to bad outcomes, and in particular, an inability to deploy reactors at scale because people are just have this this misguided fear of radiation that’s not based on anything based in reality.

Robert Hargraves 54:08
Right, and we have the CDC saying, follow the science follow the science, and yet they violate that rule. You have the same problem with radiation limits, we don’t look at the rule as the existing rule. I’m a member of an optical scientists for accurate radiation information. And its membership is perhaps one or 200 people who have PhDs or MDS in oncology, radiation technologies and so on. Published 1000s of papers that totally disproved the rules that the EPA Li uses called linear, no threshold, and yet, we cannot get that issue addressed. One of our members joined the EPA as the chair of the radiation Advisory Committee for two or three years. And but last month, he was summarily dismissed and reading about it in the Washington Post at the same time he got all notice from the new EPA Administrator, Mr. Reagan. Because they said that these were corrupt industry hacks patient, right? When in fact, these are renowned scientists to publish good papers, but EPA, in his whole tenure there as CIF would never allow that group to address the issue of lnt.

Robert Bryce 55:36
Linear linear, linear no threshold, which is this, which is any any exposure to radiation is dangerous. That’s right.

Robert Hargraves 55:44
That’s the limit as that’s our problem. So if we can get science to really be dominant in the EPA, then perhaps we can reverse these rules. We’ve petitioned to the NRC five years ago, my signatures on it that change the rules about that to drop to set the threshold is something like 50 or 100 millisieverts per year per person, and drop the nlra entirely. And the NRC refuses to rule. This is the standard work of an

Robert Bryce 56:21
agency and a la Ra is as low as reasonably achievable right.

Robert Hargraves 56:26
Now, even if, even if you meet the standards, they say, but are you doing it as low as could possibly reasonably be achieved?

Robert Bryce 56:37
Even even though we’re we’re exposed to radiation all the time. So let me let me in depth because we’re being close here, because we’re always talked for about an hour, and I like to keep the podcast at about that link. So if you don’t mind, me asking, you told me you retired 20 years ago. So how old are you now, Bob? Hmm, I’m 81. So what drives you on this?

Robert Hargraves 57:03
I guess it’s what drives all of us who founded this company is looking at the rural situation and say, energy poverty is a big issue. That’s why we all got interested in nuclear power in the first place. Because it’s an inexpensive, reliable source of energy that can help developing nations. I mean, just for example, if we can raise the GDP per person with power to about 70 $500 per year, the birth rate drops below replacement rate, we can solve a lot of the overpopulation problem by just giving people the lifestyles they want and can live by with things like a good electricity, but when they need what they need, but they need power to make that happen. They need power and it grows too. Okay, they need good government, you know, then but they power is an essential meaning you need sanitation, roads, highways power, that’s about it.

Robert Bryce 58:02
So how much money to work on need to get this reactor going? I mean, you said a billion dollars on

Robert Hargraves 58:08
our budget for our for getting the first one going is something under a billion dollars. Okay, you get the first one

Robert Bryce 58:16
for 500 per 500 megawatt plant.

Robert Hargraves 58:19
Right. In a sense, the size of plant doesn’t matter so much. This is all the work that has to go into it. The but from then on each plant would cost on the order of 500,000 500 million.

Robert Bryce 58:32
So we’re at right about $1 a watt, something like that, right? Yeah. So who are your heroes?

Robert Hargraves 58:40
Who are our heroes? Alvin Weinberg. He’s the guy who at Oak Ridge have led the lab and worked with some of his clever guys to conceive of this idea of a nuclear power plants, you could run it low pressure, and high temperature that could provide cheap power for the whole world. He was very interested in safety and so on. He eventually complained to the large large pressurized water reactors. Word is safe as the smaller ones. And for that he was fired. No. But he’s written a lot. And we still read his writings. There was just last night attributed to Alvin Weinberg at the Oak Ridge as some sort of Education Center I’ll think of it. But all his papers are now on exhibit. We use all the papers that have been stored away from the original experiments in our design work.

Robert Bryce 59:50
It’s interesting you the second one, Eric Meyer, with generation atomic I asked him who his heroes was, who his heroes were, are and he he said Eric, he said Alvin, why Berg as well. So interesting parallel there.

Robert Hargraves 1:00:04
There’s still one or two people left from that era that we consult with. Uh huh. What are you reading? What am I reading? Well, I was I read this. But of course, Bill Gates knew bill gates were declined

to read and work for the general public. That’s, that’s good. He doesn’t come out quite strongly enough in favor of nuclear power.

Robert Bryce 1:00:27
He genuflect in front of renewables is that guess?

Robert Hargraves 1:00:31
Yeah, every now everyone has this minute. I told you I teach sometimes the dark mode. Yes. This case, I got a bee in my bonnet that I was mad about the 100 renew 100% renewable energy folks, because they ignore the intermittency issue, basically. Sure. So I said, I want to do 100% fission power. So I wrote a book on how to power up the world with 12,000 gigawatts of fishing power. And I gave the course twice. I took all the slides that I put on the the screen and put them in. But you can get it for nothing. If you just go to electrifying our world calm. And the nice thing about it is you can click on anything, and go to the source.

Robert Bryce 1:01:17
And 12 to 12,000 gigawatts 12 terawatts. So just for people listening, the US has about 1.1 terawatts of installed capacity. So you’re saying if we had 12x, roughly, and just in turn, we had 12 times the capacity current grid capacity, the United States globally. We in according your calculation, we could electrify all transportation, industry, residential, everything. That’s that’s your that’s your net.

Robert Hargraves 1:01:45
Right. And I call upon all the various sources in that book that you can click on Find out where IAEA is right or wrong. So

Robert Bryce 1:01:57
my last question, and again, my guess is Robert Hargraves. He’s the co founder of Thor Khan International. They’re on Thor Khan power calm. You can also see his website at electrifying our What gives you hope?

Robert Hargraves 1:02:11
Ah, what gives me hope. The hope is that the developing nations will adapt this technology adopt this technology and suddenly illustrate through economic growth. That is a good idea. And it’s not harmful. And they will then begin to compete, internationally, and the US and the EU. And so they’ll begin to take notice, say, wait a minute, why are we doing that? So I think that’s, that’s the way we see it. And the other hope is simply that billions of people will have a better lifestyle. People who now live in Africa and Southeast Asian areas and so on.

Robert Bryce 1:02:58
Well, that’s a good place to stop at Robert Hargraves. It’s been a pleasure. I mean, we talked some months ago about getting you on the on the podcast and I’m glad we did I was we covered a lot of ground and I was glad to get some of the drill down on on the chemistry on Molten Salt Reactor. So again, my guest Robert Hargraves, a co founder of Nord con International, third con power calm, electrifying, our anything else you want to add Bob, before we close here?

Robert Hargraves 1:03:27
No, thank you very much. I really appreciate Robert, the work you are doing and getting published in so many places. I read it regularly, and hope more people listen to your advice.

Robert Bryce 1:03:40
All right. Oh, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Alright. Well, thanks a lot for being on the power hungry podcast. Thanks to all you out there for listening. Tune in to the next episode of the power hungry podcast and in the meantime, give me 612 14 stars and and tell all your friends to tune in as well. Until next time, see you then.


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