MIT Researchers have presented an alternative nuclear reactor – one that floats on water.
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Three years ago, the safety of nuclear reactors, a staple and stable source of base load power for many industrialized countries, was suddenly thrown into question, after a 15-meter wall of sea water inundated three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan, causing them to overheat.
The reactors were built to withstand earthquakes but not the height of the surging waves. Backup power was available to run the cooling pumps, but when the tsunami flooded the site, the pumps lost power and thus, the ability to circulate water and cool the reactor cores. The resultant fuel meltdown and leakage of radiation led to the immediate evacuation of the site, and a chain of events that eventually had Japan shutting down all of its still-functioning nuclear reactors. Germany, a major consumer of nuclear power, permanently closed eight of its 17 nuclear reactors following Fukushima; other European countries shelved their nuclear plans. Nuclear power, it seemed, was on its knees.
While nuclear proponents view Fukushima as an aberration and trust that nuclear is safe, opponents hold up Fukushima and other major accidents such as Three Mile Island as exemplifying the perils of land-based nuclear power generation.
Now another option is being presented by researchers at MIT, the University of Wisconsin and Chicago Bridge & Iron, a multinational construction company. The team have come up with a new type of nuclear reactor that floats at sea. Led by Jacopo Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering, the concept is a nuclear power plant built on a floating platform similar to an offshore oil rig. The plant would be manufactured at a shipyard then towed out to sea, where it would be anchored to the ocean bottom. An underwater cable would transmit electricity back to land, and there would be a living quarters built into the plant, just like an offshore drilling platform. The reactor pressure vessel – the part of the reactor susceptible to overheating – would be surrounded by a containment vessel, and flooded with seawater.