Washington, April 17 IANS | 6 months ago

In case of a tsunami or earthquake, the imminent danger to a nuclear plant is cooling failure inside the reactor. What if a floating platform can take such nuclear plant deep at seafloor, to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario?

Learning lessons from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, a new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms - modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling - could indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material, scientists said.

Such plants could be built in a shipyard, then towed to their destinations 10-12 km offshore where they would be moored to the seafloor and connected to land by an underwater electric transmission line.

"The concept takes advantage of two mature technologies: light-water nuclear reactors and offshore oil and gas drilling platforms. Using established designs minimises technological risks," explained Jacopo Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Although the concept of a floating nuclear plant is not unique - Russia is in the process of building one now, on a barge moored at the shore - none have been located far enough offshore to be able to ride out a tsunami, Buongiorno added.

For this new design, he says, "the biggest selling point is the enhanced safety".

A floating platform several miles offshore, moored in about 100 metres of water, would be unaffected by the motions of a tsunami or earthquakes.

In addition, at the end of a plant's lifetime, "decommissioning" could be accomplished by simply towing it away to a central facility.

That would rapidly restore the site to pristine conditions, Buongiorno added.

He sees a market for such plants in Asia which has a combination of high tsunami risks and a rapidly growing need for new power sources.

Buongiorno and his team presented their concept at the 'Small Modular Reactors Symposium' hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers this week.

(Posted on 17-04-2014)

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