The United States Department of Energy, Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) Direct Energy Conversion (DEC) project began in August of 1998 with the goal of developing a direct energy conversion process suitable for commercial development. With roughly two thirds of the project completed, we believe a viable direct energy device could be economic. This paper describes the financial basis behind that belief for one proposed DEC reactor, the magnetically insulated fission electric cell (FEC). It also illustrates the value of economic analysis even in these early phases of a research project. The financial basis consists of a conceptual level Economic Model comprised of five modules. The Design Model provides technical specification to other modules. The Fuel Cost Model estimates fuel expenses based on current spot market prices applied over a wide range of fuel enrichment. The Operating Cost Model uses published correlations to provide rough order of magnitude non-fuel operating costs. The Capital Cost model uses analogy and parametric estimating techniques to generate capital cost estimates for a DEC power plant. Finally, the financial model combines output from the other models to produce a Net Present Value analysis with cost of generation as the independent variable. Model results indicate that several FEC geometric configurations could be economic. Within these configurations, optimums exist. Finally, the model demonstrates that the most efficient design is not necessarily the most economic.

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