Chapter 4: Electricity Decarbonization, Coal to Nuclear Background
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Converting the World's 1,200 Largest Coal Power Plants from Coal to Nuclear

Background: Converting just the coal boilers of power plants to nuclear

 _____________  Picking the low-hanging CO2 fruit first. __________
(Your site author believes the coal2nuclear strategy is the most effective way to mitigate Climate Change quickly.)

What's going wrong with renewable energy?

The total installed renewable energy as of today is equal to the combined capacity of the nuclear power plants shut down in Japan (43 reactors, 48,847 mWe) and scheduled to close in Germany (17 reactors, 20,339 mWe), making the challenge of carbon-free energy impossible to meet.(1)

In fact, the situation is much worse. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) data show close to 150 reactors have ceased operating and up to 200 additional reactors are set to go offline in the next two decades. Most of these reactors are in Europe, which has an aging nuclear fleet and where changes to government energy policy, higher safety requirements and wholesale price pressures have prompted a spate of early closures.(3)

What can we do to recover from this set-back?

Begin the work of replacing the world's largest power plant coal boilers with nuclear steam generators.  In the past, nuclear 'Hook-Ons'(2) have been used to upgrade coal burning power plants. They proved to be quick, safe, and economic since only the coal boilers got replaced. And nuclear fuel has always been cheaper than coal. This looks to be a quick way out of Climate Change the world can afford.

There are some good reasons this isn't happening already, but they are not insurmountable.

(Above) Every dot of light is a city that could have as many as a hundred industrial-size coal burning boilers.  Globally, perhaps a million.
Whatever they are hooked on to might be repowered by SUV-size nuclear reactors, ending 1/3 of Climate Change.

Combined-cycle Gas 'Hook-Ons' are upgrades of coal power stations repowered by using jet engines and 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 7 turbine plus 7 heat recovery boiler upgrade. What is being suggested in this web site for the Taichung, Taiwan, coal power plant - the world's largest single source of CO2 - is similar to what TECO did in 2009: repower two fairly large 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. 

When? It appears the earliest we can expect to see Hook-on feasible nuclear reactors available on the market would be 2020 or shortly thereafter.  I think molten salt reactors have the "Right Stuff" - i.e., type, size, and temperatures of 1,300F (or less) - for powering hook-on steam generators designed to "plug-in" replace the world's defacto standard power plant boiler: the dual pressure, single temperature, Loeffler type coal boiler.

To be clear, we are talking about liquid fuel exchangeable "Battery" type reactors which, having far more favorable safety issues, will have a very different licensing paradigm. The International Atomic Energy Agency, not the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is working on this issue.(4)  Most of the supersized coal power plants are located outside of the United States.

By 2025, there may be 10 companies world-wide producing more or less the same product with the capability to build and fuel several reactors a month for a global total of perhaps 520 reactors per year.

How many will we need? World-wide, there are about 1,200 supersized coal plants that are burning about 75% of all coal and making about 25% of all Climate Change.  See Platts:

Typically, each of the 1,200 supersized coal power plants have four to six 500 megaWatt(e) generating units for a total of perhaps 6,000 generating units in all.  (These are the supersized coal plants second and third world countries built in the 1980s after environmentalists talked those countries out of building large nuclear plants under Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program.) 

The world's remaining 50,000 or so small coal burning power plants are practically innocent bystanders.

About 10 years ago your author was wondering about the size distribution of the world's coal burning power plant's CO2 emissions and made a plot of the emissions data found in "CARMA's" Excel database.  Being an engineer, I expected a more or less linear plot.  The actual plot, below, gave me several sleepless nights.  Check out CARMA:

It was the first time the idea the possibility of non-linear Climate Change mitigation existed. Checking into when the big ones were built gave more insight into the relatively recent surge of Climate Change and why the distribution might not be linear.


The Supersized 1,200.  Who they are and where they are:   1200 Largest Coal Power Plants - Countries and Locations .xls 

Getting started.
We should begin by going for the biggest sources
of Climate Change first: the "Dirty Dozen" fleet. This approach promises to provide the most CO2 mitigation for the least effort. Since the Dirty Dozen fleet is from all over the world, preliminary feasibility studies on this group should identify the majority of technical problems that may be present in the larger global fleet of 1,200 supersized coal power plants.

ThorCon's nuclear reactor offering is a typical example of what is coming down the pike for use as a molten salt hook-on - a tandem pair of 250 mW(e) reactors in 100 foot deep underground silo cells with an adjacent pair of cool-down underground silo cells.

This means about 12,000 molten salt reactors will need to be built in addition to on-site construction of 12,000 running cells plus 12,000 cool-down cells. Spread over 25 years, this is well within the abilities of the world's industrial construction companies.  

Think of this kind of reactor as a "heat battery", good for 5 to 7 years full power, then the reactor is disconnected and placed into a cool down cell for the same period of time to allow its radioactivity to decay to a very low level, after which the reactor is returned to the factory for recycling of reusable materials. No radioactive material will be stored at the site.  

Check out the two example hook-on projects linked below for conceptual sketches.


How much CO2 will these Hook-ons eliminate if all the power plants were running flat-out?
12,000 ThorCon reactors x 250 megaWatts per reactor = 3,000,000 mW.  At 1.05 tons of CO2 per mW per hour for coal = 3,150,000 tons of CO2.
Times 24 hours per day = 75,600,000 tons of CO2 per day.  Times 365 days per year = 27,594,000,000 tons of CO2 per year. -
That's 27 BILLION.
In real life we'd be lucky to realize 1/2 of that because power plants rarely run totally flat-out.

Example Project 1:  Converting Taichung, the world's largest source of carbon dioxide, to nuclear.  >


Repowering Taichung with 10 small underground reactors.



Example Project 2:  Barge mounted nuclear steam generator for large U.S. coastal coal power plant.  >


Repowering Tampa's 'Big Bend' with 4 small barge reactors.



If you read ThorCon's entire web site, you will understand the world has an opportunity to quickly stop most of it's current coal burning forever. - This will end about 1/3 of ALL current global CO2 emissions.  ThorCon's design philosophy conquers our common Climate Change enemy: TIME. 

'ThorConIsle' barge is also an economical zero emissions way to preempt the developing world's planned 2,440 new mega coal plants. >

Footnotes & Links

(1) M.J.Kelly, "Lessons from technology development for energy and sustainability."
Will Davis, "The Hook-Ons," Posted on April 18, 2013


The Advanced Nuclear Energy Option.  >