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MIT designs a floating, tsunami-proof nuclear plant

Sean Buckley, @seaniccus
April 16, 2014
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What's the safest place to put a nuclear reactor? Offshore, apparently. A new power plant design concept from MIT envisions a facility built on floating platforms, moored in deep water several miles off the coast. This, the concept's creators explain, lends it several crucial advantages -- making it virtually immune to earthquakes, tsunamis and meltdowns. Big promises, to be sure, but the professors' reasoning actually makes sense: in deep water, tsunami waves aren't large enough to cause significant damage, and earthquakes are usually only felt if you're standing on the earth. Floating the reactor on the ocean also gives the plant access to easy, passive cooling, what MIT's Jacopo Buongiorno calls an "infinite heat sink."

The concept may be designed to prevent natural disasters, but some of its ideas sound a little dangerous on their own. Buongiorno describes an emergency situation that sees the plant venting radioactive gasses into the ocean, rather than into the air. This protects nearby populations from airborne radiation, but seems like a questionable move in terms of protecting the local environment. For now, it's just an idea -- but if the idea can be developed further, it could provide us with safer, more manageable nuclear power in the future.

[Image credit: MIT-NSE, Jake Jurewicz]

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