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- Nuclear power is one option to free humanity
from our dependence on fossil fuels for energy.
Unlike oil, coal, or gas,
generating nuclear power emits no CO2.
Though, it must be said
that it does create radioactive waste,
some of which has to be stored securely
for thousands of years.
And unlike wind or solar,
it can produce energy on demand.
So a few countries are aggressively pursuing nuclear power
and some have even designed ships
with reactors to serve as mobile power plants.
Is this idea ingenious or a disaster waiting to happen?
China is reportedly starting construction
on a floating nuclear power station
said to be sea-worthy by 2021.
While Russia has already a built a barge
with two 35 megawatt reactors.
It's expected to be hooked up to the grid
in the far northeast region of Chukotka
by December of 2019.
Now, I know there are some keywords in there
that set off alarm bells for some of you.
Particularly, the words: Russia and nuclear power.
One of the biggest disasters
in the history of nuclear energy occurred
in the former Soviet Union in 1986
when a reactor in Chernobyl exploded.
For some, this forever tainted nuclear energy
and critics of the floating power plant
have dubbed it Chernobyl on Ice.
But nuclear power at sea
actually has some advantages.
Land-based power plants need to be built
by sources of water for cooling
which can be valuable real estate.
Building on land can also require
a lengthy construction process
and face backlash from locals.
And of course, once the plant is built,
it can't go anywhere.
A floating reactor can be tugged to a new location
to supply power if the need arises
or it can bring power to remote parts of the world.
Of course, putting a reactor on a boat
is not without its own challenges.
First and most obvious is the motion of the ocean.
The cooling system has to be designed
to keep the reactor temperatures at safe levels
even as the whole system pitches and rolls around.
There's also the problem of containment.
Land-based reactors can be built
with heavy concrete containment vessels over them
to prevent radioactive material from escaping
in the event of a major pipe break.
On a floating vessel, experts say
solving the containment issue makes the ship heavier,
meaning the ship would have to be larger
to support the weight.
It's either that or saving weight
at the expense of robust containment.
The good news for anyone losing sleep over this
is we have a lot of experience with atomic power at sea.
The first nuclear power vessel,
the submarine, USS Nautilus, launched in 1954.
Since then, militaries around the world
have built hundreds of nuclear-powered submarines
and surface vessels.
The U.S. Navy has a stellar safety record
with over 50 years of operation
and no radiological accidents.
The Russian Navy, on the other hand,
had some teething issues
and a number of serious accidents resulted
in over 20 radiation deaths.
Since the late 1970s though, safety and reliability
became a priority, and their track record improved.
There are also several Russian operated icebreakers
that rely on nuclear power that are in service right now.
So with modern naval reactor design
and years of accumulated experience in mind,
some experts like the former head
of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein,
think fears about a floating Chernobyl are overblown.
If the design proves safe and effective,
maybe it will lead to more offshore reactor designs.
MIT even floated their own idea for one back in 2015,
and yes, the pun was intended.
Their concept was to combine a nuclear reactor
with the same kind of cylindrical platforms
we use for some floating oil rigs.
Think of those chlorine dispensers
you see bobbing in a backyard pool,
only, giant and with a nuclear reactor inside.
The MIT researchers believe they could be mass produced
and deployed easily, making them much less costly
than current land-based plants,
and putting them over deep water
and at least 13 kilometers offshore
can reduce the threat from tsunamis or earthquakes.
They're still looking into the idea
and hope the first ones are operational by 2030.
If they live up to expectations,
offshore nuclear power could one day be a huge contributor
to the fight against climate change.
And one more fact before you go,
while nuclear power is one way to reduce CO2 emissions
and dependency on fossil fuels,
the Russian floating nuclear power unit
is being sent to a remote area of Russia
to power the extraction of fossil fuels.
Oh, the irony.
If you like this video, check out this one
on how nuclear modular reactors could change
the future of energy.
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and I'll see you next time on Seeker.
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Nuclear Power Plants Are Floating on Water…Wait What?

3 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on March 25, 2020
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