Electricity Decarbonization, Repowering Tampa's Big Bend Power Plant
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How ThorCon's ThorConIsle nuclear barge power plants could repower a coastal megapolis like Tampa, Florida.
ThorConIsle - Design Paper.pdf       ThorCon exec_summary.pdf 

Coal-to-Nuclear Repowering Example

The "Greening" of Tampa's 1969 'Big Bend' Coal Power Plant  
This web site is free speech Climate Change and energy opinion talk, not professional engineering advice, made without the knowledge or approval of any cited entities.
Fewer than 2% of all coal power plants are making almost 30% of all Climate Change.

Introductory video presented by ThorCon:
  ThorCon - Indonesia Thorium Consortium Completes ThorCon Technology Pre-Feasibility Study - 14142672.pdf   

Big Bend is about number 250 on the list of the world's largest 1,200 coal burning power plants with Taichung, in Taiwan, being #1.  This group of 1,200 makes 30% of all Climate change.

Over the next several years as many as 50 different North American companies will be unveiling their versions of as many as 10 different types of new Small Modular Reactors (known as SMRs).  These fourth generation reactors are designed to be mass produced by the thousands like airplanes and ships.

In the world of energy, cost is usually the most powerful market force and nuclear heat can be as much as 2,000 times cheaper than coal, something coal has always known and feared since the 1950s. 

From what I've seen, the far more costly and dangerous first and second generation nuclear power plants we've come to know and love are hopelessly obsolete and mindlessly expensive.

Old fashioned nuclear reactors typically are high pressure water cooled and over 1,000 megaWatts in power creating the potential for very powerful above ground steam explosions (think Chernobyl). Many of the new modern Generation IV reactors are unpressurized molten salt (think lava), which is incapable of exploding, smaller than 300 megaWatts in power, will be used in large numbers like today's big stationary diesel and aeroderivative engines and usually designed to be located at the bottoms of underground silos for extreme safety.  Molten salt reactors can be built much smaller, cheaper, and lighter if necessary. The first molten salt reactors were intended to power airplanes.

Once I understood the concept of the "CMO", or Cubic Mile of Oil equivalent , as a way to get my brain around the size of the energy we are obtaining from fossil fuels, I understood why windmills, solar cells, and old-fashioned nuclear reactors simply could not provide sufficient energy to replace fossil fuels as a way to stop Climate Change. 

Nuclear energy is, however, big enough to replace the worst source of Climate Change, coal, along with powering massive biofuel chemical processes to replace oil and natural gas. This combination does provide an economical way to stop the growth of Climate Change while continuing to provide enough energy for everyone on earth to live a comfortable and plentiful life.

This page introduces the reader to a nuclear technology that appears to have the "Right Stuff" for quickly ending about 1/3 of all the world's climate changing CO2 - the amount of CO2 being emitted by the world's 1,200 largest coal burning power plants . By comparison, the world's other 70,000+ smaller coal power plants are almost innocent bystanders. I should point out that a typical coal power plant has 4 to 6 boilers so we are probably talking 6,000 or so small nuclear reactors. 

Few people have ever been exposed to the entire global electrical system.  More money is invested in the world's electrical systems than any other industry. You can get an idea of how large electricity power really is from these folks:

Knowing that only 2% of the world's coal burning power plants are making almost 30% of ALL Climate Change makes obvious nuclear repowering of the world's 1,200 largest existing coal power plants is the world's best opportunity to reach the Paris Climate Change goals of 2050.

This web page is an introduction to the idea of replacing a large coal burning power plant's boilers with advanced molten salt nuclear reactor heated steam generators installed in ocean-going barges rigidly parked next to the electricity plant's turbine gallery building.  When the barges go away for refueling, repair, or plant decommissioning, their radioactivity goes with them. Replacing coal boilers with nuclear boilers isn't a new idea:  Hook-ons2.pdf.

This introduction to molten salt reactors is divided into four parts:
1. Nuclear Repowering Tampa's 'Big Bend' Coal Power Plant.
2. Nuclear Waste: The Sub-Seabed Solution.
3. Introduction to Molten Salt Reactors.                 
A 12-page ticket to the early world of molten salt reactors:  Molten Salt Reactor Adventure.pdf 
4. Molten Salt Reactor Aviation Power Plants.      

Big Bend's Upgraded Sister Power Plant
Big Bend has an older (1967), somewhat smaller, nearby "sister" site, Bayside, just North on I-75 a few miles, that was successfully converted to natural gas combined cycle in 2009.  More efficient and cleaner electricity.

Combined-cycle Gas 'Hook-Ons' are upgrades of coal power stations repowered by using new jet engines and heat recovery boilers powering old steam generators.
Burning natural gas instead of coal, efficiency goes from 30% to 60%, CO2 emissions from 2,024 pounds per megaWatt-hour to 660 lb/mWh.
Much more electricity, much cheaper electricity, 1/3 the Climate-Changing emissions.  What's not to like?  Still not wind or solar cell clean.

Above is an aerial (layout) view of Tampa Electric Company's (TECO) Bayside plant after it's new 7 turbine plus 7 heat recovery boiler upgrade. What TECO did in 2009: repower two fairly large, good running old coal steam electricity generators (brown, left, light roof) with steam made by the exhaust blasts of seven new small natural gas powered jet engines (gray, mid right). Notice the long steam lines between the 7 jet engine heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs) and the 2 old steam turbines they are powering. 

After running the numbers for several existing coal plant sites, your author has become convinced nuclear Hook-Ons are impractical for reactors more advanced than first-generation water-cooled reactors. Cost, inherent water explosion hazard, and far different reactor ramp-up and turn-down characteristics due to having the small, but very troublesome, erratic electricity component typically produced by wind farms connected to the grid are the major issues.

For natural gas fired aeroderivative gas turbine powered Hook-Ons, integral amine carbon capture could be added later to take the plant's CO2 emissions down to 10% of what would be combined cycle gas's already clean 500 lb per megawatt.  That's almost wind, solar, or nuclear clean. And running it on biofuel diesel oil makes it CARBON NEGATIVE. Check out the integral amine carbon capture conceptual sketch below.

The smart move for aging coal power plants is to phase in inexpensive natural gas powered combined cycle generation like Detroit's DTE Power did. This type of plant can cycle quickly from almost no power to maximum and then back down to almost idle (turndown) in a very short period of time, making a wonderful "fill-in" power source that compliments the erratic power from wind turbines. This type of plant wears out much more quickly than coal - say 10 to 15 years - and "fill-in" duty for wind farms that are also attached to the grid doesn't help.

In 10 or 15 years, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) will be in inexpensive mass production. Since Tampa is coastal, ThorCon's "ThorConIsle" modular barge power plant or something like it from the Chinese should hit the spot when replacement time comes.

If Tampa wants to go 90%+ Climate Change clean on fossil natural gas or oil, adding a relatively inexpensive Integral Carbon Capture module - resembles the catalytic converter connected to your car's exhaust - should do the trick.

Unfortunately, Florida is suffering gas pains.  For the foreseeable future, the gas has to be piped in from Louisiana and a power plant as large as this one would be might draw more gas than the pipe could deliver.

This brings us to the nuclear options.


Ideas on this web site always need to be properly vetted by competent engineering companies such as Bechtel or Fluor before anyone should even consider taking these ideas to the bank. 
The Devil hides in the details. Engineering a detailed preliminary design of a pilot plant for something untried is a good way to vet an idea. - Site Author

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Part 1

Nuclear Repowering Tampa's 'Big Bend' Coal Power Plant

Most of the world's 1,200 largest coal burning power plants, like Tampa's Big Bend, are located on navigable water to facilitate their purchasing of low cost coal by the barge load. 
This makes the possibility of quickly and inexpensively converting them to nuclear boiler barges to both end their Climate Changing emissions and substantially reducing fuel costs.  
Using inexpensive mass produced standardized nuclear boiler barges to preserve the very high value of the electricity being produced by world's largest power plants makes a lot of economic sense.  The world simply isn't rich enough to build a new fleet of nuclear electricity plants.
There are no coal burning power plants in the world too large to be converted to nuclear by using multiple ThorCon molten salt reactor heated steam generators.
August 2015
U.K. assessment of molten salt reactor technology:  Molten-Salt Reactor Feasibility Study by EPD  (pdf)

Big Bend's repowering idea using nuclear reactor steam barges is very simple: Cut 4 barge slips into the lagoon edge next to Tampa's Big Bend power plant turbine gallery that holds four 450 megaWatt coal powered steam turbine electricity generators.  Run new steam piping from the reactors to the existing steam piping in the turbine gallery.  With suitable connections and valves, the turbines could then be powered with a wide ratio of coal steam and/or nuclear steam.

ThorCon's extremely simple reactors are to be used somewhat like flashlight batteries.  They would come in two modules of two.  When one dual reactor module is turned on, it will produce enough steam to make 500 megaWatts of electricity for 4 years before it's fuel is too depleted to make full power.  Then the other dual reactor module of the pair of modules is turned on and the radioactivity in the "tired" reactor module has as long as 4 years to die down before it is replaced with a pair of fresh reactors.

The NuScale reactor company published an image of their reactor showing how radiation decays.  The small amount of decay heat is easily absorbed into the surrounding water.

Reactor barges would be exchanged as needed for maintenance with the one needing work towed away to a remote dry dock specializing in nuclear maintenance any time refueling or repair was needed.  The radiation goes away with the barge.   (See equipment layout sketch below)

(Site North is left)  Four nuclear power plant barges, each with two pairs of 250 mW(e) ThorCon molten salt reactors, to replace Big Bend's aging four 450 mW(e) electricity generators.
(The barge outlines are from the earlier coal2nuclear molten salt reactor = steam generators and are not to scale for ThorConIsles.)   
ThorConIsle - Design Paper.pdf     Barges - Ocean Going Workhorse.pdf     Molten Salt Reactor Adventure.pdf 

[NOTE: I originally created this page about 10 years ago for my now superseded coal2nuclear web site. The idea then was to just replace the coal burning steam boilers. Now Russia, China, Turkey, and others have actually built entire power plants as ships or barges. The parent company of ThorCon, Martingale, has been making oil supertankers in a highly automated shipyard in Korea for quite some time now. ThorCon saw what everyone else had done and decided that if they couldn't come up with something a lot better, they would forget about it. Now they have an opportunity to build their pilot plant in Indonesia, a country of hundreds of islands with many megaopolis harbors not unlike Tampa Bay.

Most of my  coal power plants are approaching the end their useful lives and a cheap, mass-produced, standardized package nuclear power plant using safer, smaller, modern ship-sized reactors makes more sense.

Revision time again.]

ThorCon's Proposed "ThorConIsle" Nuclear Island Complete Power Plant Barge
Fewer than 2% of all power plants are making almost 30% of all Climate Change.


2 ThorCon 500 megaWatt(e) "Nuclear Island" barges.       (Right) Reactor exchange ship. All the radiation goes away with the red reactor can.
Reactor cans have enough fuel for 4 years of full power running. Reactor exchange ship containing up to 5 individually replaceable 4-year reactors.
If something unforeseen happens, or something major needs to be upgraded, or the barge finally wears out, the whole barge goes back to the shipyard/factory.


Shore Installation                                                                    At Sea Installation
Preempting the World's 2,000+ New Large Coal Burning Electricity Plants


It looks like ThorConIsle barges that need to pass through the new 160-foot wide Panama Canal will be limited to the single active reactor 250 megaWatt model. Looks good for the Suez Canal's 254-foot beam clearance if careful scheduling of the other ships is taken into consideration. The ThorCon drawing above doesn't show draft.

ThorConIsle is an excellent idea for preempting the next 2,000+ new large coal power plants being planned for powering the world's emerging coastal mega-population centers.

ThorCon is suggesting an option of anchoring complete 500 megaWatt electrical power plant barges offshore and feeding their electricity to land via cables like offshore wind farms do. 

The simple battery-like "exchangeable when depleted" reactor module power plant ThorCon has come up with is too good to ignore for use in a barge to be located in shore slips adjacent to the world's thousands of existing coastal electricity generating plants - such as Tampa's "Big Bend" - to take advantage of the plant's existing staff, coal power plant grid, rail, and road access.

SAFETY: The first reactor in this league to be assessed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been the NuScale, a 50 megaWatt(e) conventional water cooled solid fuel fission reactor currently being built on the property of the Idaho National Laboratories to add power to the U.S. Northwest grid.  
While Oak Ridge Laboratories built and successfully ran a test molten salt reactor for 5 years, no power plant versions have ever been built, so the NRC is going to have to do a lot studies before it rules on something this different.

The molten salt cooled and fueled ThorCon reactor uses liquid fuel that resembles molten lava, cooling and turning solid if it escaped the reactor, not sinking into the ground and joining the local aquifer like radioactive water from conventional nuclear reactors, a serious downside to neighbors who have nearby drinking water wells. This one of many fundamental differences between the NuScale and the ThorConIsle nuclear power plants. People live within several miles of Big Bend power plant property and well-proven nuclear powered military ships can pass within several miles of Big Bend power plant property in addition to the heavily populated area surrounding Tampa and it's bayside suburbs. Operating power nuclear reactors this close in just to get Big Bend to "Go Green" is going to require a lot of thinking.

ThorCon 500 mWe (dual 250 mW(e)) Molten Salt Reactor Land Power Plant Modules  ThorCon Power, division of Martingale   ThorCon 2017 Specification Sheet pdf

Their motto: "If it isn't cheaper than coal, forget it".   - Dan Yurman

"ThorCon employs a moderately high energy density resulting in a short (4 year) moderator life. A ThorCon plant is made up  of one or more 250 MWe modules. Each module consists of two sealed Cans. Each Can houses a 250 MWe primary loop including a  Pot (reactor), pump, and primary heat exchanger (PHX). The two Cans are duplexed. At any time, one Can is operating and the other is in cool-down or stand-by mode. The plant is designed so that the change out of a cooled-down Can is safe and quick."    ThorCon exec_summary.pdf  (Written by a person experienced in building supertankers. Please try to find the time to read the Abstract. The entire summary will give you some idea of how backwards today's nuclear reactors are and how the ThorCon was designed to be relatively inexpensively mass-produced, not unlike an airplane or ship.)  ThorCon Slide Presentation to Oak Ridge National Laboratories.pdf

ThorCon Estimated Heat Balance - From ThorCon web site library. - Blue English conversion notes by site author.

Underground ThorCon 250 megaWatt (e) Nuclear Steam Generator Module
ThorCon Silo Dimensions - From ThorCon web site library. - Blue English conversion notes by site author.

Liquid molten salt resembles molten hot lava.  In the unlikely event some leaked out of the reactor, it would cool and turn solid like a rock, unlike a conventional reactor's radioactive water that could eventually join the nearby ground water under the reactor.


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Part 2

Nuclear Waste: The Sub-Seabed Solution
The radioactivity goes away with the nuclear barge.

The entire world of nuclear energy has bungled the issue of nuclear waste.  Here is a better idea:

CNNC to construct Chinese prototype floating nuclear plant, other nuclear barge items

Decommissioning Costs:

When no longer needed, the barge would be removed and taken to a sub-seabed disposal site 600 miles North of Hawaii, leaving no radioactivity behind at the customer's power plant site.  The nuclear power plant barge's radioactive equipment like worn-out reactor cores and coolant pumps would end up buried in the deep disposal site's peanut butter-like soft mud.  The disposal site is hundreds of meters thick so eventually the barge would would sink to the solid seabed strata at the bottom of the mud.

The really neat thing about this is that worn-out nuclear barges can be used to entomb everyone else's nuclear waste at the same time (for a modest fee).  Just add nuclear waste containers and pour in nuclear grade concrete.

Beyond technical and political considerations, the London Convention places prohibitions on disposing of radioactive materials at sea and does not make a distinction between waste dumped directly into the water and waste that is buried underneath the ocean's floor.

It remains in force until 2018, after which the sub-seabed disposal option can be revisited at 25-year intervals.

Russian Floating Nuclear Power Station + Desalinator (FNPS) Acadmic Lomonosov nuclear power plant barge - Due to come on-line fall, 2018.


Lights = Cities = Coal Power Plants.  The United States is only about 1/4 of the Climate Change problem.


Part 3

Introduction to Molten Salt Reactors


(Above) Major components of a generic molten salt reactor.


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There are many really old nuclear scientists and engineers. They got that way because they KNEW what they were doing.      If you don't know what you are doing - DON'T DO IT!

People who work around radioactivity always wear pocket radiation detectors called   along with photographic film dosimeters to monitor their accumulated exposure to ionizing radiation.

Stay as far away as possible and behind the best shielding possible from anything that is even slightly radioactive.


Radiation Hormesis  


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(Below) Looking down into a small molten salt reactor that Oak Ridge Laboratories built and ran for 5 years.

(Above) After the experiments trying out different thorium + uranium fuel blends were over, the MSR building was turned into a museum.

Running at the heat of coal, molten salt reactors run much hotter than conventional 550F water reactors. 
Here, the reactor uses a radiator  to carry the heat away from the reactor.  It ran red hot.  The liquid molten salt was like red hot lava. 
If it leaked, the molten salt would cool into a solid radioactive lump - unlike the radioactive water leaking from a water cooled conventional reactor which would sink into the ground, possibly making our drinking water supply radioactive.

(Above) The molten salt reactor was very docile and since it was already molten, it couldn't melt down. 
It didn't require much in the way of a control system, was "walk-away" safe, and easy to live with.
(Right) Assembling the small simple graphite moderator core.

(Above) The molten salt reactor building at Oak Ridge Laboratories.
The little molten salt reactor produced an impressive 8 megaWatts (thermal).  Incapable of exploding, it did not need a containment dome.

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Part 4

Molten Salt Reactor Aviation Power Plants

The first molten salt reactors

In the beginning, the molten salt reactor was the Air Force's equivalent to the boiling water reactor used by the U.S. Navy for nuclear submarines.

"Fireball" molten salt nuclear jet engine reactor.  Note exhaust on left.
Relatively inexpensive, light, and quick responding like a jet engine, the molten salt reactor's first application was to make a jet airplane that,
like the nuclear submarine, a nuclear airplane could stay on station for weeks at a time.   The B-36's two bomb bays are almost boxcar-big.
Your author saw this actual early prototype on display at the edge of a parking lot at Idaho National Laboratory visitor's center.

The "Fireball" molten salt reactor and the 4 jet engines it powered were to be installed in the forward bomb bays of standard Convair B-36 nuclear bombers.
The Nuclear Bomber (NB-36) was designed to take off on all engines and then cruse on the nuclear jets.  Someone quipped: "Six turning, four burning".
Fireball reactor was never actually used to power a flight but was often running at full thrust temperature when in the air.  About 50 flights over the Southwest were made.
Concerns about a radioactive airplane crash in a city and the rapid development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile technology led to abandonment of the NB-36 program.

The Soviets developed their version as a nuclear turboprop, along the Soviet standard counter-rotating propeller lines, and actually had several years of nuclear powered flight.
They used the rear bomb bay to locate their reactor further from the cockpit. 
Despite this effort, three of the ten crewmen are said to have had their life spans shortened due to inadvertent radiation exposure.


Tampa's Big Bend Power Plant 


Footnotes & Links

Big Bend
Largest Coal
Sizing Up Big Coal
Using Taichung
Taichung Power Plant
Nuclear Power Plant Barges


News Notes