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back to article MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

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 …

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An idea worth investigating, but the sea is a far more hostile environment than land. It's not just corrosion (though that's bad enough), but a hurricane is almost no threat to a land-based nuclear reactor encased in a heavy concrete shield. At sea, it's another matter.

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Well nuclear powered subs exist, as do nuclear powered air craft carriers.......

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MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

Nuclear powered ships move around severe weather. I can't see floating nuclear power stations doing that without having to unplug the electricity cable to the cities.

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Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

They do, when they get accurate weather reports and have enough time to do so. Friend of mine worked on one and was caught in a hurricane.

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Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

"Nuclear powered ships move around severe weather. I can't see floating nuclear power stations doing that"

That's because floating power nuke plants are a daft idea - rogue waves or off course ships pose more likely hazards than tsunami, but either could be as devastating for a floating nuke plant. And the mass of a decent scale nuclear power station is such that trying to make it float is simply bizarre - "let's take the heaviest objects ever built by man, and try and make them float!". A far better idea would be building an underwater nuke power station. Tsunami, rogue wave, and mostly off-course ship and storm proof, can weigh as much as you want. Arguably neither more nor less vulnerable to military attack.

Admittedly a full scale underwater power plant would be a larger scale underwater construction than anything plant wise we've done yet, but there's plenty of very long tunnels under very high groundwater pressure that we've managed, the military experience of marine nuclear reactors could be turned to good use, and with suitable precautions, the plant is its own sarcophagus if things go pear shaped.

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@Ledswinger Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

You forgot about seabed earthquakes. If it 'floated' a few hundred feet off the bottom, in deep water, that might work out well. The cables would have to be designed to snap under heavy strain, etc, but it could be done. As for 'the heaviest objects ever built being made to float', take a look at a large cruise liner.

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Pint

Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

"There's also a floating nuclear plant in the US"

The Nimitz, Abe Lincon, Ronald Reagan...

Then there's the really clever underwater ones... the San Juan, Santa Fe, Boise...

"That's because floating power nuke plants are a daft idea - rogue waves or off course ships pose more likely hazards than tsunami, but either could be as devastating for a floating nuke plant."

How many aircraft carriers have sunk in the last 25 years? Seems fairly safe so far: We just need to make sure the floating power stations have a pointy bit at the front!

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Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

"let's take the heaviest objects ever built by man, and try and make them float!

You mean supertankers? You'll find they already do float, on account of them being ships and all.

And a floating nuke plant doesn't have to have all the vulnerable infrastructure above the waterline. Makes more sense to have the reactor vessel and support gear underslung and in the water already, in case things DO go pearshaped. Plus you've got more space on top for helipads, accomodation, etc.

Not too difficult when you think about it for more than 30 seconds ;O)

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"Well nuclear powered subs exist, as do nuclear powered air craft carriers......."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sunken_nuclear_submarines

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@boltar

"Well nuclear powered subs exist, as do nuclear powered air craft carriers......."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sunken_nuclear_submarines

And the list of sunken nuclear powered aircraft carriers? Oh, that's right, there isn't one. Not to mention, there's only submarine to have a sinking related to the reactor - and that was scuttled against after the event, against the advice of the IAEA. All of these incidents (including the Kursk) relate to cold war era hardware too - somewhat less mature technology than today.

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Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

>That's because floating power nuke plants are a daft idea

For every reason except planning consent

Cost/time to get permission to open a reactor in San Francisco vs permission from feds to moor one 12miles offshore

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Headmaster

Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

> For every reason except planning consent

Run those other reasons by me again, I forget. Some commentard let rip on those but never bothered to go into details...

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Re: @boltar

The reason for the sinkings are irrelevant - they sank. And no , there arn't any sunk nuclear aircraft carriers , mainly because they tend to stay out of harms way. A nuclear reactor sitting on a platform is a sitting duck for any halfwit terrorist with a grudge not to mention the elements.

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Re: @boltar

A nuclear reactor sitting on a platform is a sitting duck for any halfwit terrorist with a grudge not to mention the elements.

Terrorist plows into a large floating concrete platform. Terrorist sinks.

Elements plow into large floating concrete platform. Elements pass.

The stupid "it won't work because a) terrorists b) mother nature" is really getting on my wick. With that kind of attitude, not using fire after the last ice age might have looked like the safe option.

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Re: @boltar

I'm sure that during and after the last Ice Age there were a lot of shamans banging on about how fire was really dangerous, using it was against nature, and the gods would punish anybody using their divine prerogative.

They and their tribes just didn't get to contribute to the gene pool.

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Nuclear ships/subs use designs which are dictated by their cramped environments and military requirements.

The biggest problem with almost all land-based systems is that they're scaled up version of marine military technology, which leaves them needing lots of water, not running hot enough to be economic and with intrinsically compromised safety systems.

I'm a big supporter of nuclear tech. I'm a massive opponent of systems which use liquid metals (sodium burns like a bastard if you expose it to air) or boiling water systems (steam explosions are a far bigger risk than meltdowns and hot, high pressure water is amazingly corrosive).

Molten salt systems or pebblebeds have got to be a big step in the right direction towards intrinsically safe civil plants and I suspect that a molten salt system would be a good fit in a modern nuke boat too.

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Re: @boltar

"The stupid "it won't work because a) terrorists b) mother nature" is really getting on my wick. With that kind of attitude, not using fire after the last ice age might have looked like the safe option."

Don't be an ass - there are certain places you don't build certain things. You wouldn't build a reactor on a geological fault or at the edge of a cliff so why build it in the middle of the sea where its exposed to harsh weather and waves and is a damn site harder to protect from attack? Oh , and if a reactor has a meltdown on land its bad news but at least there's some containment - if it did it in the ocean, well , shall we work out how large the extent of the pollution would be?

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Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

Underwater does have it's benefits.

Being deep underwater has it's advantages.

Anti-terrorism: You can't crash an airliner into an underwater reactor at any speed, and for most terrorists it would be difficult to get any potentially destructive devices to the reactor.

Earthquakes: With the weight of the power plant partially countered by submersion, it would be easier to provide a suitable anti-earthquake suspension system.

Asteroid impact: If the asteroid is big enough to dangerously damage the reactor then a meltown will be the least of our worries.

Disadvantages: Access for staff and supplies.

Unfortunately neither floating or underwater reactors solve the biggest vulnerability of nuclear power: human fallibility and commercial pressures. For example, I understand that the Fukushima disaster would have been mostly (or completely) prevented if the operators had followed safety upgrade recommendations to have adequate backup power generation inside the reactor's protective shell.

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Re: MIT boffins moot tsunami-proof floating nuke power plants

Which direction is the front?

If Rogue waves can come from more than one direction, you need to be able to turn the power station, or have more than one "front". One possibility might be giant prow shaped airbags, but these still need to be activated, either by sensors or humans, both of which are prone to failure. A better idea would be a design that lets the waves pass harmlessly over the top of the plant.

Off-course ships would just have to be torpedoed! After reasonable warning, of course.

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List of Nuclear Accidents ..

@Matt 21: "Well nuclear powered subs exist, as do nuclear powered air craft carriers".......

"List of sunken nuclear submarines"

"List of military nuclear accidents"

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MARF = US Navy S7G reactor at Balston Spa, NY.

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Facepalm

It may be sensible and true, but saying up front that "Any radioactive gases released could also be “vented” underwater to further reduce risk" just ensures even greater Green opposition and bad publicity for the whole project.

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TRT
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And then no-one would be allowed into the entire ocean due to high radioactivity levels?

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Mushroom

@TRT

Just so you know, there's about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater already. Maybe that gives you a sense of perspective.

http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2012/ph241/ferguson2/

You might also find this interesting.

"A key consideration here is that we can measure radiation at any amount. You need trillions of atoms of mercury, lead or any other toxic chemical to see them at all, but we can see one atom disintegrating.

The good thing is – we can see every atom.

The bad thing is – we can see every atom.

This double-edged sword makes it difficult for the public to evaluate anything associated with nuclear and makes everyone freak out every time something happens, no matter how small."

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/03/05/wipp-is-still-the-best-and-only-choice-for-nuclear-waste/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @TRT

True, but...

A: Not in the concentrations found in a Fission reactor.

B: Certainly not enriched.

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Re: @TRT

@AC

"True, but...

A: Not in the concentrations found in a Fission reactor.

B: Certainly not enriched."

True, but the sea has one great advantage. Over time (but pretty swiftly really), it churns around the globe and distributes any concentrations. This doesn't happen on land, so a much bigger problem. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's a good thing to dump loads of radioactivity into the sea, just that the sea is actually better at dealing with it.

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Re: @TRT

His point is that theres already a LOT of Uranium in seawater, putting some more in doesnt matter. The problem in nuclear accidents isn't the big chunks. You can pick those up with a robot. It's the dust and gasses that are much harder to contain. Venting a radioactive gas underwater is just going to get it dissolved in seawater, where it'll very soon be so diluted it's no longer dangerous.

Enriched Uranium is not actually all that much more radiactive than natural uranium. The only difference is the concentration of fissile U-235 instead of the non fissile U-238. Modern Low Enriched Uranium is only about 20% enriched. Which theres 20% more U-235 in it compared to natural uranium. 20% more of a TINY amount is still a tiny amount.

The danger with used nuclear fuel is not the uranium. It's all the other fission products that come into existence during the fission of Uranium. Especially the actinides are a problem. Most of these however are pretty shortlived with a half-life of a few days to a few months. Meaning they'll be nearly gone within a few years.

Note also that the radiation in the Fukushima area deemed to be "high" is in fact, in the grand scheme of things not that high. Most of the area is at or just slightly above the background radiation in some other areas of the world happily occupied by non-cancer riddled human beings. (Like the Rockies, which are very rich in natural uranium).

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Re: @TRT

Er, no, LER doesn't have "20% more U235 in it compared to natural uranium". It has up to 20% atom for atom U235, rather than 0.7%, i.e. around 20 times more concentrated. A bottle of natural uranyl nitrate is quite safe to have around the place, as I used to do when experimenting with special effects in photographic printing, a bottle of LER uranyl nitrate, not so much.

That said, I agree with the rest of your argument. Once the stuff is diluted, the production of highly radioactive actinides also stops.

The problem with Fukushima is that there are people out there who think that "natural" radioactivity is benign, "artificial" radioactivity isn't. Dartmoor good, Fukushima bad. But to be fair Dartmoor and the Rockies have low populations; perhaps if they were densely populated we might have a cancer problem.

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Re: @TRT

>, there's about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater already.

But that's natural organic free-range uranium

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Devil

even greater Green opposition

GOOD!

TROLL THEM UNTIL THEY BLEED!

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@Arnaut the Less - Re: @TRT

Wrote :- "to be fair Dartmoor and the Rockies have low populations; perhaps if they were densely populated we might have a cancer problem"

Aberdeen in Scotland has a high background level because the ground around there contains granite and the older buildings are built of it. Aberdeen is called "The Granite City" and is a tad more densely populated than Dartmoor. Despite much research there, last I heard was that no scientific study has ever found higher resulting cancer levels.

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And when the Greens get pissy...

Just tow the whole power station to France.

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Devil

Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

No, no, no, no. When the greens get pissy, you invite them out for a reassurance and fact-finding visit. then push them over the side, into the shark-infested waters.

Or if you're feeling a little more subtle, and have more spare cash, you organise a helicopter crash...

It worked for Sadam Hussein, after all. None of his gernals ever tried to overthrow him. And that's becasue all the ones who won more than a couple of battles in a row in the Iran-Iraq war, had helicopter crashes. Of course that war dragged on for years, and his military subsequently got their arses kicked, at least partly due to incompetent leadership. But you can't have everything...

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Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

Correction:

...then push them over the side, into the *water infested with radioactive sharks*. .

:)

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Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

but do they have lasers on their heads?

inquiring minds need to know

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Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

but do they have lasers on their heads?

Evolution takes its own sweet time dear boy. Even with heavy gamma ray assistance.

I think the most we can hope for the near future is terrifying glowing eyes. Obviously those will take many many years to develop into lasers.

Hopefully, if we get the dosage right, we can have the sharks acting as underwater CD players within a few centuries, working our way up to boat-puncturing lasers after that. Remember they've still got enormous teeth, so this shouldn't inconvenience them too much in the meantime...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

Saddam Hussein learnt his approach to generals from Stalin, except that Stalin had a chance to improve his methods; after 1936 he had almost no competent generals left, after 1941 he had enough sense to rely on natural wastage rather than continue to shoot himself in the foot.

My own solution to the Greens would be more subtle. Find them a suitable area of, say, Yorkshire or Lancashire, and fund them to develop their alternative vision for society. Only allow them electricity generated from renewables. See how long they last.

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Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

"but do they have lasers on their heads?"

Here's Your freakin' shark with a frikkin' laser on it's head. Now can we let this this poor old tired meme die with dignity already?

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Re: And when the Greens get pissy...

Close, AC, but not anywhere mainland. Give them a nice island (so they can't sneak off, and we can be sure that they are not using any natural resources sneakily). There are several off the coast of Scotland - any that can survive a decade there without using any natural resources can come and tell us what they learned.

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Headmaster

Re: And when the Greens get pissy... @ Captain DaFt

fin ≠ head

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Meh

Doh!

Just when they said it was safe to go back in the water. Alas I have a sinking feeling about my plans for lead-lined swimwear. Still, the oceans should be even warmer at this rate and folk will be able to surf right through the night, what with all the glow-in-the-dark seaweed etc.

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a yacht !

If he had studied the offshore platforms in any detail, He would be aware that each installation would have a 500m exclusion zone and a Yacht would under no circumstances be aloud within this zone.

Still plenty of work for the ROV crews inspecting the structure,

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TRT
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Re: a yacht !

That's an artefact caused by x-ray impingement on the retina brought about by the relatively thin shielding around the core due to the reduced mass required so the buoyancy calculations would work.

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Headmaster

Re: a yacht !

I find yachts to be quite quiet, and in no way 'aloud' (me hearties)!

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Childcatcher

I'm no MIT...

But I can think of a couple of examples of "unsinkable" machines that now lay on the bottom of the sea. I'm not sure that a power plant nuclear reactor should be one of those.

I don't know about MIT boffins, but I like my fish with two eyes and a tail.

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But we live in a democracy

Some of us prefer fish having fingers.

And MIT have some notably dab hands in that plaice.

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Re: I'm no MIT...

In reality, there's no shortage of nuclear power plants at the bottom of the sea (numerous have sunk in subs etc.) and there are even a few nuclear bombs (of various types) as well!! However, I do share your sentiments about 'unsinkable'. I guess it depends a lot on how deep the water would need to be to mitigate the Tsunami. As long as it isn't too deep, it could actually sit on the ocean floor.

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Happy

Re: I'm no MIT...

Easy answer. Simply call it HMS Sinkable. Or Vincible. It's bound to be safe then.

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Alien

Re: I'm no MIT...

like my fish with two eyes and a tail

"Anomalocarida, beasts with rotated heads and dangerous finned mutants! EDIACARIDAE!! Protect the world from the encroachment. HELP US STOP THE CAMBRIAN EXPLOSION!"

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Re: I'm no MIT...

"I'm not sure that a power plant nuclear reactor should be one of those."

There are a number of them there already - not just sunken nuclear subamrines, the soviets dumped at least five cores from the Lenin (Nuclear Icebreaker) in and around the Barents Sea, along with an unknown number of spent nuclear sub cores.

Several of them are very close to Finnish waters, so are watched very closely. At _no_ stage has any radioactivity above normal background levels been detected outside the hulls of the vessels, nor inside, more than 1-2 metres from the reactors.

One observation made is that natural mud level buildups means that all the sites will be completely buried within 2 centuries.

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