Due to its fast growing population, Indonesia’s energy demand is growing faster than most of its other Asian counterparts. With a series of new measures that could attract energy investments, the Indonesian government is trying hard to satisfy its growing energy needs.
In a crucial step which could affect the country’s future energy portfolio, Indonesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. based ThorCon for developing thorium molten salt reactors (TMSRs). The partners from Indonesia included state owned Pertamina, a nuclear fuel processing company called Industry Nuklir Indonesia (INUKI) and a state owned power generation Company called PLN.
What makes Indonesia and ideal site for this form of energy?
Thorium molten salt reactors eliminate a lot of problems that are otherwise associated with traditional nuclear reactors. Being in the liquid state, TMSRs are more stable and safer as there are no chances of a meltdown, thereby reducing the cost of containment with high pressure hot water. Next to that, TMSRs have the capability of providing energy and burning the nuclear waste whilst emitting zero greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents of TMSRs argue that they are even cheaper to build compared to a traditional nuclear reactor or a coal plant, although that has yet to be proven.
On a global scale, Indonesia is one of the largest producers of Tin which in turn contains thorium. “Indonesia has an abundance of monazite which could last for the next 1000 years, securing Indonesia’s energy supply if the thorium is used as a nuclear fuel”, said the Chief Executive Officer of INUKI.
The logic behind the TMSR is pretty simple. possesses an abundance of Thorium, and building a TMSR could provide clean baseload power, something that would offer Indonesia energy security while not contributing to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
What could be the potential output?
INUKI’s CEO Mr. Imardjoko said that the consortium estimates the ThorCon design to be deployed in the next 4-5 years. He added that the consortium was planning to capture a substantial energy market (around 20 percent of Indonesia’s energy mix by the year 2050) through this technology.
The current market turmoil has created a once in a generation opportunity for savvy energy investors. Whilst the mainstream media prints scare stories of oil prices falling through the floor smart investors are setting up their next winning oil plays. According to ThorCon’s estimates, a 1,000 MW TMSR could be built in a year’s time and it could be scaled up to 5 GWs per year within 5 years of its operations. The biggest immediate challenge for ThorCon and its Indonesian partners however is to obtain an operating licence for its TMSR. The discussions between Indonesian Nuclear Agency and The Thorium Consortium early next year should offer perspective.
Will this answer the nuclear critics on the cleanliness and safety of nuclear?
With its set of advantages related to cleanliness and safety, TMSR could help address Indonesia’s massive energy requirements. However, there are a set of challenges that lie ahead of this possibility.
The biggest challenge would be ability of ThorCon to successfully develop and deploy its nuclear reactor. Although the current plan looks good on paper, the ThorCon team might well require more than 4-5 years to successfully build its reactor, operate it on a commercial scale and convince its potential customers of the reliability and safety of its reactor.
The second biggest hurdle would be the Indonesian government, which has not put forward policies that support the use of nuclear energy for the nation’s future energy requirements. On December 12, 2015, Indonesia’s energy minister Sudirman Said stated that his country would not be depending on nuclear energy for achieving the target of 136.7 GWs of power by the year 2025 and 430 GWs by 2050. “We have arrived at the conclusion that this is not the time to build up nuclear power capacity. We still have many alternatives and we do not need to raise any controversies”, said the Minister.
However, he continued to say that his country would still be interested in new developments associated with nuclear technology. Although it is not clear as to how this attitude from the Indonesian authorities would affect ThorCon’s plans, it is pretty clear that things won’t be that easy for the consortium.
Indonesia is an ideal country for producing Thorium based nuclear energy, but it could be an uphill battle for ThorCon despite the recent Memorandum of Understanding.
By Gaurav Agnihotri of Oilprice.com