IN THE JOURNAL | POINT OF VIEW
The energy paradox: Cheap versus clean
January-March 2018
By: Bob S Effendi

But it’s a different case for the molten salt reactor (MSR), a liquid fuel-based fission power reactor. Three were built in the 1960s by American nuclear physicist Alvin Weinberg, who also designed the current conventional pressurized water reactor. The MSR was designed for safety and economics. The public’s meltdown fears can be eased – the fuel itself is already melted. So, on paper, the MSR could possibly be the solution to the energy paradox: clean and cheap energy that is affordable for developing countries.

MSR developers have stepped up to the challenge to be competitive with coal and inherently safe. Among them is US-based Thorcon, with a hull-based 500-megawatt complete fission power plant on a barge, which according to its publications can produce electricity at 3 cents per kWh. At this price, Thorcon could compete with coal on price anywhere in the developing world. If so, the solution is only a matter of educating the public and decision makers about the realities of nuclear energy.

Indonesia’s state-owned electricity company, Perusahaan Listrik Negara, state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina and state-controlled mining company Timah have completed a 10-month prefeasibility study on Thorcon’s technology and concluded that it is a doable technology that can be built now and is financially feasible. Next, Thorcon, with Indonesia and international nuclear experts, are to do a technology assessment using tools from the International Atomic Energy Agency, to be completed in early 2018. If satisfactory, this could lead to the construction of Indonesia’s first nuclear power plant.

It seems the only current viable solution for clean, cheap and reliable base-load energy that could possibly replace coal in Indonesia is the molten salt reactor: the energy miracle. So, let’s not waste time on a nonworkable solution to solve climate change and alleviate poverty. Let’s make a miracle happen now in Indonesia, but we must remember that if it’s not affordable, then it will be coal forever. This is the cold, hard reality of the energy paradox. 

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