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Nuclear Energy

Floating Nuclear Plants Could Survive Tsunamis


The 2011 tsunami that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan left the complex in disarray, contaminated and broken. The Japanese government subsequently found itself moving at the behest of public opinion to decommission many of its nuclear facilities and pushing towards a renewable energy future.

However, the damage done to the facility was not caused by the earthquake or resulting tsunami itself, but rather the aftereffects, specifically the lack of cooling for the reactor cores due to the shutdown of power at the station.

Researchers from MIT, along with others from the University of Wisconsin, and Chicago Bridge and Iron, presented a novel nuclear plant concept — that might escape such disasters in the future — at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The concept is a nuclear power plant built on floating platforms out to sea — modeled after the same platforms used for some offshore drilling platforms. Additionally, as noted by MIT, “such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.”

Three MIT professors are among those who presented the idea, including Jacopo Buongiorno, who explained that such plants could be built in a shipyard and then towed to their destination five to seven miles offshore where they would then be moored to the seafloor and connected to land by an underwater electric transmission line.

As can be seen in the image below, the reactor vessel is actually located deep underwater, surrounded by its containment vessel flooded with seawater.

Cutaway view of the proposed plant

Cutaway view of the proposed plant

Not a new concept, this particular design of a floating nuclear power plant has “enhanced safety”, according to Buongiorno, as being located so far offshore would allow the plant f

Illustrations courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

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