US-based nuclear company ThorCon has signed an agreement with the Indonesia’s Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency (Bapeten) to officially start a safety, security, & safeguards (3S) consultation in preparation for licensing the 500 MW demonstration NPP. The agreement was signed during a Bapeten Executive Meeting on NPP licensing.

Bapeten said the Government of Indonesia has committed to carry out an energy transition to reduce the greenhouse effect and achieve Net Zero Emissions by encouraging research and development of new energy-based power generation technologies and renewable energy. The government is targeting 8 GWe of installed capacity from nuclear power plants by 2035 increasing to 35 GWe in 2060.

The plant is to be located at Kelasa Island in the Province of Bangka-Belitung. ThorCon said the goal of the consultation is “to prepare the regulator, the applicant, and the stakeholders for the formal licensing process”. It will also “create a roadmap that contains schedules, roles and responsibilities, applicable laws and regulations, scope and format of the technical and administrative documents in the licence applications, and evaluations of the design readiness”. The consultation is expected to take 12 months. “We intend to submit licence applications following the conclusion of the consultation,” ThorCon said.

ThorCon says its TMSR-500 design “will provide the low-cost dispatchable electricity that the Indonesian economy needs to grow and flourish”. ThorCon claims that “with its black start capability and scalability, our plants can be used to make the Indonesian grid more robust and attract foreign companies to set up operations in Indonesia”. The company says it intends to establish an assembly line “which will manufacture our nuclear power plants in Indonesia”. It adds: “We are also working with several universities to create programmes regarding molten salt reactor technology. These activities will not only create a new industry in the national economy, but they will also help transform Indonesian power generation into one of the cleanest on the planet.”

ThorCon has been promoting its technology to key Indonesian institutions since 2015, the year that, Indonesia decided to cancel its $8bn plans to construct four nuclear plants with a total capacity of 6GWe by 2025. In 2014, ThorCon’s parent company Florida-based Martingale, had completed the preliminary detailed design of a molten salt reactor, technical details of which were published at “It is the basis for securing feedback, funding, and siting for the project,” it said, adding that “the goal for 2015 is to identify a host country and site for construction of the non-nuclear prototype ThorCon, along with funding to enable construction”.

In January 2015 Martingale formally unveiled its ThorCon liquid-fuel nuclear reactor design, which uses uranium and thorium fuel dissolved in molten salt, and these same details are now available on the ThorCon website. At that time, production was expected to start by 2020. ThorCon’s initial approach to Indonesia took place in October 2015 when the Indonesia Thorium Consortium signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Martingale to develop thorium molten salt reactors (MSRs). ThorCon's statement said Indonesia planned to commission its first such reactor in 2021. The consortium comprised PT Industry Nuklir Indonesia (INUKI), the state-owned nuclear fuel processing company; PT PLN, a state-owned power generation company; and PT Pertamina, the state oil and gas company.

In the subsequent years ThorCon signed a raft of further agreements. State shipbuilding company PT PAL Indonesia agreed to conduct a development study and build a 500MWe plant as EPC contractor which would be placed on a 185-metre-long barge built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in Okpo, South Korea and then towed to a site in Indonesia.  Indonesia’s Defence Ministry signed a MOU with ThorCon to study developing a thorium molten salt reactor for either power generation or marine vehicle propulsion. The ministry aimed to have an operational molten salt reactor by 2025 to generate electricity or power ships and submarines. ThorCon also said it would provide technical support to develop “a small-scale TMSR (thorium molten salt reactor) under 50 MW" to “strengthen national security in the outermost, frontier and least developed regions”.

However, Dandang Purwadi, director of National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan), which had never shown much enthusiasm for the ThorCon project, told The Jakarta Post that thorium nuclear technology is not yet ready for commercial application. “We have to wait around 10 years for the technology to mature, then it takes 10 years to build the facility”, he said.

Undeterred, in January 2022, ThorCon named Spanish engineering firm Empresarios Agrupados (EA) as architect engineer for the TMSR-500 and six months later reached agreement with the National Research & Innovation Agency (BRIN to jointly develop and build an experimental NPP based on molten salt reactor technology. An agreement with inspection and certification company Bureau Veritas (BV) followed in December 2022. It was anticipated that the Technology Qualification process would take a minimum of three years and if successful, the deployment phase would require an additional two years bringing implementation to 2027.

ThorCon’s website notes that its power plant “is a straightforward scale-up of the successful United States Oak Ridge National Laboratory Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE). A full-scale 500 MW ThorCon prototype can be operating under test within four years. After proving the plant safely handles multiple potential failures and problems, commercial power plant production can begin.” However, MSRE was shut down in 1969 and is now being prepared for dismantling. While there is now renewed interest in MSR technology in the US and elsewhere, there are no projects anywhere in the world near realisation – and that includes ThorCon, in spite of its growing list of agreements and MOUs.

Several stakeholders were present at the Bapaten meeting including the Ministry of Maritime & Investment Coordination, the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources, the National Development Planning Agency, the Ministry of Investment, the National Energy Council, National Research & Innovation Agency, BPPD Bangka Belitung Islands, PT PLN, PT Indonesia Power, PT ThorCon Power Indonesia, PT Bureau Veritas Indonesia and Gajah Mada University as well as Nuclear Engineering Empresarios Agrupados.

Bapaten Chief Sugeng Sumbarjo explained that the Executive Meeting was an effort to create efficient and licensing practices practicable for existing business actors investing nuclear power plants in Indonesia. “We accommodate all permits but prioritise aspects of nuclear security and safety,” he said. At the end of the event the Terms of Reference were signed for the 3S Consultation and submission by PT ThorCon Power Indonesia of related documents including a feasibility study for the TMSR500 and the proposed schedule. The projected implementation is now put at 2029. According to the Jakarta Post, ThorCon estimates investment for this project at $1.1bn.

Image: Signing of the agreement between Bapeten and ThorCon (courtesy of Bapeten)