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MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

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Boffins at MIT have mooted a new concept for nuclear power plants which would see the entire facility towed several miles out to sea and moored in a similar way to offshore oil and gas platforms.

The proposals would see nuke power plants built in shipyards and then moored or anchored a few miles off the coast, linked to the electric grid with a "transmission line".

In the video below explaining the concept , associate professor of nuclear science and engineering (NSE) Jacopo Buongiorno, said the design would “revolutionise” the industry in terms both of economics and safety.

The safety benefits include the fact that the plant could use the ocean as an “infinite heat sink” in the event of Fukushima-style problems to avoid a meltdown, he said.

“The decay heat, which is generated by the nuclear fuel even after the reactor is shutdown, can be removed indefinitely,” explained Buongiorno.

Secondly, tsunamis and earthquakes would no longer be a “source of risk” as they were in north-east Japan in 2011 because “essentially the ocean shields the seismic waves, and the tsunami waves in relatively deep water … are not that big”, he argues.

Finally, if the floating nuclear plant did encounter problems its location would ensure that no nearby residents would need to be evacuated from their homes. Any radioactive gases released could also be “vented” underwater to further reduce risk, he claimed.

Japanese officials last year admitted that some of the 160,000 evacuees displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster may never be allowed to return home because of high radiation levels.

Buongiorno said that MIT is currently working with other universities and industry to develop the concept.

He referenced the fact that Russia is currently developing a floating nuclear power plant of its own but said it was not designed to be moored miles offshore.

There's also a floating nuclear plant in the US, although the MH-1A reactor was formally deactivated in 1978.

This week it was announced that the Sturgis, the vessel it sits on, will be towed to Galveston, Texas, where the dismantling and decommissioning will begin in earnest.

Buongiorno says offshore platforms used for oil and gas exploration and extraction are a good technology platform for floating reactors. That offshore rigs sink from time time to time isn't discussed. ®

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