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Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

Posted December 30, 2015 9:11 AM by HUSH

There is a lot of recent controversy around offshore power. Offshore wind power is expensive and faces local opposition. Offshore drilling continues to face high regulation and criticism after Deepwater Horizon, despite growing freedoms. Now research and development in other offshore power generation technologies promises new potential and controversies.

Both Russia and China are developing floating nuclear power plants. Russia's atomic energy ministry has been building the Akademik Lomonosov since 2007 (pictured right), with it ready for power generation in 2016. At nearly 500 feet long and almost 100 feet wide, the ship will be equipped with KLT-40 naval reactors that provide up to 70 MW of electricity or 300 MW of heat, enough to power a city of 200,000. Russia will ultimately build seven of these vessels and deploy them in the Russian Artic, as well as lease them out. Life expectancy is about 50 years. China will also receive versions of the Akademik Lomonosov in 2019, but has also begun construction on a floating reactor of its own design with the help of Lloyd's Register.

Overall, the concept is solid. Floating reactors can be constructed in shipyards, locations with experience building high tech energy systems and the personnel to do it. Floating power generation reactors would be coupled to the world's largest heat sink, the ocean. Also, since the reactor is decoupled from solid ground or a specific location, earthquakes and weather disasters won't be an issue.

Of course, other threats and concerns will exist. Reactor vessels will need to be carefully navigated and maneuvered. It will also be a prime target for terrorism. Maintenance costs will be higher than usual ships or reactors, and the reactor will also need to be refueled every few years. Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important challenge, activist organizations will ultimately oppose the large scale deployment of floating nuclear plants because of the environmental contamination potential, although the retention and dilution of radionuclides in the sea would be better than on land.

Floating nuclear plants could be anchored off the coasts of the U.S. soon. MIT is researching nuclear plants built on offshore platforms. This might seem like a logical solution for Japan, a country determined to rid itself of nuclear energy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. However the country seems committed to floating marine solar panels instead.

This is a tough fight from the engineering perspective against the environmental and social activists. According to Forbes, nuclear power is the safest by death per trillion kilowatts. However the cost of polluting our world's most precious resource may not be worth the risk. As with any energy source there is always a gamble, and it seems like this could be a more promising future for seaborne nuclear power plants.

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#1

Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

12/30/2015 12:15 PM

Great until a big storm or wave comes along, then what?

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#3
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

12/31/2015 12:30 PM

Obviously, one would not site a floating nuclear plant (unless you are a Superpower Navy) in open, unprotected waters. I suspect that large scale units could be placed in the Arctic and Antarctic zones (away from sea ice perhaps), but would be built on larger than life floating man-made ice bergs, with the nuclear container being encased in a concrete structure on board. (The British pioneered the possible and worthy idea of an aircraft carrier made of compressed ice and straw or wood meal. The thing was basically stronger than steel. The only remaining issue was production of sufficient refrigeration to keep her from melting.

The other advantages to use of ice-wood meal/straw composite should be obvious: (1) in the event of complete and total thermal failure, the thing simply melts away the supports of the reactor encasement, and the thing sinks. (2) general materials for construction would be nearly "dirt" cheap, especially if ice were being harvested by towing in sea ice and constructing far from populated areas.

Furthermore, if the newer class of breeder reactors (advanced molten salt nuclear fission reactors) were deployed in this way, all stored up inventories of spent nuclear fuel, and even other un-enriched fuels could be utilized and disposed of safely.

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#2

Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

12/30/2015 4:07 PM

How about "off planet" generation? Of course that "extension cord" might be a little problematic.

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#5
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

12/31/2015 12:54 PM

Off planet (lunar) nuclear plants with microwave power transmission is a possibility. Putting a whole nuke plant (large one, not a small satellite one) into geosynchronous Earth orbit is not really a workable idea. Not that having that much manpower and materiel shipped to the moon makes any sense either, but let's have a thought experiment:

The vast majority of the materiel required obviously would have to originate on the moon. Concentrated solar power makes sense up there too. No birds to fly through and get their "goose" cooked. No atmospheric scattering or heat loss at the heliostat. Much longer days on the moon, but also there is the thing about long nights also. Perhaps the use of the solar plant would only be during construction with an intensive two-week on, two-week off work schedule.

The fuel would initially at least originate on Earth, and be launched to the moon. Safety becomes an even higher concern. Fuel could possibly be found (don't know that it already has not been) on the moon. Intensive nuclear heat processes could be available on the moon that would never be tried on earth, perhaps a way to generate more materials (reclaim oxygen from rocks, and reclaim the metals, silicon, etc.), so the whole energy equation of output from the moon would "snowball".

Microwave energy transmission on a semi-industrial scale has already been thought out, and can be made safe enough a farmer could plow his crop under the antenna.

Another way to transmit the power would be the use of large scale antennae tower arrays located at earths poles (if severe polar winds didn't knock them down too easily). Unfortunately, the transmission lines would indeed be long.

One final thought: suppose one could use the power generate on Luna to convert local resources into something useful at earth (titanium? aluminum?), and then "slingshot" launch it to earth for recovery? Even production on a very large scale would not make much of a dent in the overall energy use pattern here on Earth.

It simply makes more sense to "beam" the energy back to earth as receivable microwaves, and try to locate the key reception areas to sparsely populated areas, even dune desserts to keep safety on the ground at its highest levels possible.

I like the concept of taking spent nuclear fuel off planet for burn up in the new reactor design. Perhaps containers can be made (similar to the ones trucks use for high level nuke waste), and launched to the moon using high-efficiency rail guns for initial launch to LEO, then cargo ships traveling between Earth and Luna could safely handle the rest of the journey.

Controls, electronics, and many other things could be made on-site at the moon using current electronics fab practices (assuming sufficient critical water supply can be had), and 3D additive manufacturing processes could facilitate much of the production of necessary parts, along with the build up of a whole, complete industry on the moon.

So you see, it's "to the moon, Alice"!

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#4

Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

12/31/2015 12:38 PM

What's scary is the mention of Russia deploying these to the Arctic. Wonder why? Google : Satellite pictures of Russian Military base construction in the Arctic".. 11 ice breakers to our 3, with only one of those operable…

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#6
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

12/31/2015 1:07 PM

Answer is obvious: The Russians have already thought of (1) isolation from population centers, and (2) they could build large sturdy platforms of ice/straw/wood meal, (3) they are proficient in melting ice (see Chernobyl) and making things glow in the dark.

If they chose to do so, who would or should stop them? Perhaps they will learn from Americans about the new reactor designs and incorporate these into a truly fail-safe systems, and do the world a favor by providing (1) low CO2 (not that it matters) output footprint energy, and (2) consuming so-called spent nuclear fuel, and being a large producer of electric power for all of Russia, in order for the peace-loving people to have a light in the darkness.

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#7

Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/05/2016 9:24 AM

Seems quite dangerous for leaks directly in the ocean where our precious commodity is.

I can not deny this sea water energy is quite amusing and a wonderful resource instead.

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#8
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/05/2016 10:21 AM

That is OK for impoverished people that need a source of light, but the one with the Cu/seawater/Zn is too anemic to produce much of anything. Also, when considering this as a possibility the inventors need to look at the cost of the anode (which apparently has to be replaced as a result of the corrosion cell (galvanic cell) running down. Overall, I expect the energy required to make the anode has a substantial carbon boot print.

Get real. I told you all the answer with the new molten salt technology nuclear fission reactors which use up high level nuclear waste (spent fuel), un-enriched fuel, and have safety features so advanced, there is just no comparison with the older industry standard technology.

Just because YOU don't think something is safe is no reason to back to the copper age (Egyptians basically had this battery, and so did the Babylonians). I have no idea what they used for a light source, since they had no light bulbs, no LED's, etc. Maybe the battery they had was for plating gold, or silver.

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#9
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/05/2016 1:07 PM

I agree with James. Fast nuclear is the way to go. There are several designs besides molten salt, but all using fast nuclear technology which can utilize for energy the things he mentioned and in addition the decommissioned nuclear warheads and thorium. Solar, wind, hydro and others are neat, but they won't have the capacity to meet the needs of the world.

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#10
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/05/2016 2:31 PM

MIT offshore design

http://www.transatomicpower.com/

Check out these two links, and tell me which one you would have offshore or on shore.

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#11
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/06/2016 3:23 PM

The offshore design sounds like it is thermal nuclear technology, so I will have to vote against it. If converted to fast nuclear, I could go for it, because I tend to the larger central generating plants. The fast nuclear plant could be the heat source for existing coal plants for land-based generating plants so we could take advantage of the existing infrastructure.

But I do recognize the need for the smaller modular designs for many areas in the world. I like the thinking and literature of the Trans Atomic Power folks, but I would not limit it to molten salt.

Therefore, both concepts can be used if fast nuclear, depending on the location and use. But no matter what is chosen, NIMBY will give us fits! Thus education of legislators and the public has to be a primary component along with design of the hardware.

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#13
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/07/2016 10:02 AM

Or stop stop the election of non-technical idiots.

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#12
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/07/2016 8:23 AM

The key interest to find there, buddy, is, if the energy it gives out (the whole set up) will be more than the energy spent on making the 2 dissimilar terminals/plates. It's a fact that salt and fresh water also has some share of charge to the total electric effect.

That is still more convenient technology to have and may be, now is the time to look for a nice place, free of lighting energy unlimited 24/7 for you buddy.

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#14
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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/07/2016 10:07 AM

I often dreamed of emigrating to a remote South Pacific island with topless babes wandering about, but I would no longer be able to concentrate if I did that.

There are many other more energy intensive ways to generate power: Consider either anaerobic or aerobic digestion of biomass, or the production of wood gas, followed by bubbling the gas through a capture medium to remove carbon as carbon black. This only works for rich methane streams, uses molten tin, and floats off carbon black powder (with its own market value in tires, other black rubber). Solar is also good in the islands.

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#15

Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/13/2016 12:10 AM

What's old is new again, it's amazing how reporters herald an idea as "new thinking" when in fact it was developed over 40 years ago. Aside from the NIMBY/political issues mentioned in this article, there were many technical issues that plagued the concept, and nothing ever got built.

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#16

Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/13/2016 1:31 AM

Very interesting but things to consider:

Power Supply Continuity - What if the nuclear fuel is empty, how soon will arrive the ship with a nuclear fuel? How many hours to transfer the line from old ship into new ship?

Protection against Act of God - How to protect the ship with nuclear fuel against the Storm Surge of Tsunami? How to prevent the nuclear leak?

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Re: Is Nuclear Power Destined for Offshore Generation?

01/13/2016 1:04 PM

That is why it would never be in the open ocean, too many wanking terrorists shooting the place up, but in protected harbor, the traffic is controllable, and so are surges.

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