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Floating nuclear plants could withstand earthquakes and tsunamis

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Published on Apr 15, 2014

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused most of the damage and contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores and spent fuel, due to a shutdown of outside power — that caused most of the harm.

A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically flooded by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, providing sufficient cooling to indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

The concept is being presented this week at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, by MIT associate professor of nuclear science and engineering (NSE) Jacopo Buongiorno along with others from MIT, the University of Wisconsin, and Chicago Bridge and Iron, a major nuclear plant and offshore platform construction company.

Video filmed by Christopher Sherrill, courtesy of MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

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