MIT team designs offshore nuclear reactor concept

A rendering of a proposed floating nuclear reactor design indicates its similarity to offshore oil drilling facilities. | Courtesy of MIT
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) propose that an off-shore nuclear power plant could potentially be a safer and more efficient way of nuclear power generation than current land-based facilities, they said on Wednesday.

Essentially, the concept combines the use of current platforms that are used in the oil drilling industry's off-shore operations and nuclear reactors. The facilities would include living quarters and helicopter landing pads for travel to and from the reactor.

Jacopo Buongiorno, an MIT professor in the Nuclear Sciences and Engineering Department, said certain  challenges must be overcome if nuclear power is to be a widely recognized solution to limiting and eliminating carbon from the atmosphere. Some of these include restoring global trust in nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear complex disaster after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The floating reactor would provide an alternative to traditional reactor designs with the added benefit of being approximately 10 miles off shore.

“There are shipyards that build large cylindrical platforms of the type we need and companies that build nuclear reactors of the type we need,” Buongiorno said. “So we’re just combining those two. In my opinion, that’s a big advantage.”

The team said certain safety features would be needed in the floating reactor design that would enable the plant to manage interruptions in cooling activity at a plant. Cooler water below the surface would be brought in, and the heated water would be returned to the warmer surface layers, avoiding thermal pollution. They also said that unlikely pressure buildup in the reactor could be vented into the ocean after filtration.

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