MIT has unveiled designs for an earthquake and tsunami-proof nuclear power plant. Similar in design to platforms used for offshore oil drilling, the floating power plant would use the surrounding water to cool the reactors, minimizing the possibility of overheating and potential meltdown. In case of decommissioning, the structure would be towed away to an onshore facility.
Operating in a similar way as onshore power plants, the new offshore plans could vary in sizes-they could be small, with a 50-megawatt to 1,000-megawatt capacity – or the same size as the largest facilities used today. They would be built on a shipyard, towed several miles offshore and moored in about 100 meters of water. An underwater electric transmission line would connect it to land. Thanks to the fluid surrounding the plant, they would remain stable in case of earthquakes and tsunamis. According to MIT professor Jacopo Buongiorno, overheating and potential meltdowns similar to those which happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima would be practically impossible at sea.
This type of nuclear power plant design is not unique. A similar one is being built in Russia, but none of the previous ones have been located far enough from the shore to sustain a tsunami, according to Buongiorno. Along with his colleagues at MIT, Buongiorno believes that their offshore nuclear power plant design would be particularly beneficial in Asia, where high risks of tsunamis call for safer structures. The design’s feasibility is still to be fully confirmed, and further study is to be conducted in order to answer some of the major technical questions.