A new floating nuclear power plant concept has been put forward by US university MIT based an offshore platform similar to those used by the oil industry.
The only floating nuclear power plant today is the Akademik Lomonosov, under construction in Russia, where two 35 MWe reactors similar to those used to propel ships are being mounted on a barge to be moored at a harbour. The concept from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) differs in that researchers propose a reactor of 200 MWe or more mounted in the centre of a floating cylindrical platform positioned around ten kilometres out to sea.
Floating plants offer various advantages: construction in a factory or shipyard should bring efficiencies; siting is simplified; environmental impact is extremely low; and decommissioning can take place at a specialised facility. However, the offshore environment brings important considerations, such as access for personnel and equipment and the need for strong assurance that uncontrolled contamination of the sea would be impossible.Surrounded by relatively deep water, the floating power plant would have constant close access to the sea for cooling and a large lower section of the structure would be permanently flooded to provide passive cooling to the reactor containment vessel.
MIT’s Jacopo Buongiorno said, “It’s possible to do cooling passively, with no intervention. The reactor containment itself is essentially underwater.”In water 100 metres deep, MIT said their concept would be immune to the effects of earthquakes, while it would easily ride out the swell that a tsunami represents ten kilometres offshore. It could be sited close to centres of electricity demand without using up valuable land, as long as the area is clear of shipping lanes and not often subject to severe storms.The concept was presented at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, organised in Washington DC by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. It was developed by Buongiorno with Michael Golay and Neil Todreas, the Kepco professor of nuclear science and engineering. Also involved were staff from the University of Wisconsin and from engineering firm CB&I.