ThorCon is based on the principle that nuclear power plants should be rigorously tested before being licensed. Computer analyses and negotiated probabilities are no substitute for real world testing. Admiral Rickover understood this. His fullscale prototype was complete down to a submarine hull equipped with a propeller submerged in a massive tank. No one would pay to fly in a commercial aircraft that has not undergone an extensive set of trials. In fact, nuclear may be the only hazardous activity that adopts a don’t test, but license anyway philosophy.
ThorCon’s modularity make such physical testing economically feasible. The prototype will be based on a full scale 250 MWe power module. The trials will begin with a series of pre-nuclear tests to confirm the thermohydraulics of the system, and run through a full range of operational scenarios. We expect surprises, good and bad, and must be set up to modify quickly and re-test.
When and only when both the host country and ourselves are perfectly satisfied, we will go to zero power testing. And then begin a step by step ramp up, moving on to the next step only when the host country approves it.
Upon reaching full power, we will begin physically simulating a full range of design basis failures, working from less severe to more severe. If the designers claim that a plant can handle scenario X, then that claim must be tested, not by rerunning the same programs by which the plant was designed; but by subjecting the plant to the problem and seeing what happens. Upon successful completion of all these tests, then and only then should ThorCon be licensed.
The prototype facility will be an on-going endeavor, intensively testing improvements and modifications before they are deployed to the plants. ThorCons will be completely standardized. No individual plant will have the freedom to make changes on its own. Once again the commercial aircraft model, rather than current nuclear practice.