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Underwater Nuclear Power Plant Proposed In France 314

nicomede writes "The French state-owned DCNS (French military shipyard) announced today a concept study for an underwater nuclear reactor dedicated to power coastal communities in remote places. It is derived from nuclear submarine power plants, and its generator would be able to produce between 50 MWe and 250MWe. Such a plant would be fabricated and maintained in France, and dispatched for the different customers, thus reducing the risk for proliferation."
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Underwater Nuclear Power Plant Proposed In France

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  • by jsepeta ( 412566 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:28PM (#34947468) Homepage

    i'm not sure that this is the best location for a nuclear plant, but it may lead to a cool james bond flick.

  • Man up! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gtirloni ( 1531285 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:30PM (#34947502)
    I wonder when will people stop wasting time with wind/solar and man up to nuclear energy.
    • Re:Man up! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:31PM (#34947514)

      Because those are mutually exclusive, huh?

      • Re:Man up! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by RsG ( 809189 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:43PM (#34947634)

        Yeah, that always struck me as the fallacy of the nukes vs. passive power collection debate. Pursuing both options and using them in different applications and climates, as their strengths and weaknesses dictate, seems to be the most logical approach by far.

        My take would be to build wind turbines, geothermal plants, hydroelectric dams and solar collectors (especially solar heat engines as opposed to photoelectric cells) in locations where the respective climate and geography dictates, and supplement those with rooftop photoelectric solar and other distributed systems wherever local homeowners want to use them.

        This will leave a power deficit, as those means of power generation don't provide enough energy to meet our needs, so you solve that deficit with nuclear power for the time being, and fusion power when it becomes available, which realistically might not be for many decades. Add in non fossil fuel options for vehicles (biofuel, battery or hydrogen) and we might actually break our dependency on coal and oil entirely.

        • That would be the logical thing to do, but noooooh the world is full of simpletons who can't FATHOM several things working at the same time.
        • This will leave a power deficit

          As I've already posted in this discussion, no it won't. 2% of the uninhabited Sahara covered in photovoltaic cells = the entirety of the world's energy requirements.

          • Of course you still have to get that power to somewhere useful, unless you expect us to all move to the Sahara. Besides that calculation in Wikipedia is demonstrably wrong.
    • Wind and solar are renewable and don't generate toxic waste, so there's that.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Until you dispose of the panels after they fail.

      • Re:Man up! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by iroll ( 717924 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:54PM (#34947724) Homepage

        Really? You must not have gotten the memo about all of the semiconductor fabs that are Superfund sites. They don't generate toxic waste when they're being operated, but they generate a boat load when they're being manufactured. And they don't last forever, so you're going to keep on generating that waste.

        All sources of power have waste associated with them, and some of that waste is toxic. Nuclear power generates *very* toxic waste, but that waste can also be condensed into a tinier volume (per joule of energy produced) than any other source of power. So, you can--realistically, through reprocessing--have all of the waste for an entire generation from an entire country fit into a very dangerous house, or you can have stadiums and stadiums of 'less' toxic (but still deadly) waste. That's what we deal with every day.

        It's all about optimizing. I'm a huge fan of mixed power generation. Solar and wind should be in the mix, but we shouldn't kid ourselves and pretend they're a panacea.

        • Have you read on the work some people are doing into reducing radioactive elements to less dangerous ones with high strength lasers? It's great stuff. If we expand on that technology we could further minimize the toxic footprint of the nuclear power plants.
          • The biggest thing that can be done to reduce the bad nuclear waste is fuel reprocessing. Take spent fuel refine it and remove the poisons then re-burn it. We'd be doing it today but Carter was afraid of terrorist attacks on recycling plants, so we still recycle fuel domestically just not fuel from the US.
        • To be fair, if you're looking at the setup cost of a solar farm, you'd also have to consider the considerable energy & waste required to build the nuclear power plant too. Then there's operation, maintenance costs and lifespan of each to consider as well. Total cost of any system can difficult to measure accurately, especially when considering indirect effects, and can often iceberg unexpectedly.

          I tend to feel that renewable (as much as possible) is the best long-term solution, but there are many short-

        • You can do solar with a steam-driven turbine. I'm not sure what the efficiency is compared to a semiconductor approach though.

          Wind power doesn't require any semiconductors.

          • by iroll ( 717924 )

            Maintaining a wind farm generates used gear oils and solvents/degreasers in volume; these are not trivial to dispose of. Turbines have finite lifespans and it takes a huge mass of them to generate any significant power. Compare the power generated, per kilogram of mass as constructed, between a nuclear power plant and a wind farm, and then consider the useful lifespan of that mass.

            Nothing is free.

        • So, you can--realistically, through reprocessing--have all of the waste for an entire generation from an entire country fit into a very dangerous house,

          Realistically? Not really... it's too dangerous to transport it to... what was your address again? Seriously, we can't move the stuff. If we start to move it, realistically, from, say, merely 110 different temporary storage locations that are already over-capacity, there will be accidents. Expand that number, then you expand the number of accidents.

          • by iroll ( 717924 )

            OK, most of what we've been saying is speculative, but what you just said is dead wrong. Hot nuclear material is moved all the time--by truck, in the US, on public freeways--and has been for 60 years.

      • Actually there have been some studies on the feasibility of solar and wind to not only power the world as is, but to keep up with demand and the need to bring the entirety of the world to at LEAST the level of western europe in terms of energy per capita (a critical metric in the evaluation of quality of life).

        I don't have the study handy, but this video quotes it a href=>

        for those of

    • I wonder why I must be searched at the airport for some explosive in shoes while somebody else plans to produce radioactive waste that will still be dangerous when the grand-grandson of osama bin laden will need to check his prostate.

      If anybody has some unbiased cost projection for atomic energy that comprises the cost of storing and keeping an eye on waste till it's not dangerous anymore with the same attention that we have in the increasing surveillance towards average citizens, I'll be willing to reconsi

    • by morari ( 1080535 )

      Maybe when we can properly dispose of nuclear waste?

      I'm not satisfied with just burying the shit and hoping that nothing goes wrong within the next 10,000 years.

      • by bmo ( 77928 )

        We *can* bury waste like this for 10,000 years. It's called dumping in an abyssal plain (by sinking it into the mud kinetically the same way sediment cores are done) or into an oceanic trench to be recycled sooner by MomNature as it's subducted.

        The reasons why we don't already do this is 1, treaties, and 2, the "waste" is actually pretty valuable since it can be reprocessed and reused.

        Go ahead, what terrorist has the balls or the friggin' *finances* to go after something under a couple of miles of sea wate

    • by lennier ( 44736 )

      I wonder when will people stop wasting time with wind/solar and man up to nuclear energy.

      When we learn to stop worrying and love catastrophic radiation leaks.

    • Riiight... because putting a nuclear reactor at the bottom of the ocean couldn't be any more difficult or dangerous than, you know, drilling into underwater oil fields. What could possibly go wrong? []
    • A few reasons:

      1. Nuclear power is complex and has enormous startup costs if you intend to build the reactor yourself. This means that you need a lot of startup capital. The startup cost contributes to several other disadvantages.

      2. The management of Nuclear power is really confined to nation states. Individuals cannot build and maintain reactors. The centralised nature of Nuclear power rules it out for many communities, e.g. ethnic groups who are quasi ruled by a semi hostile government can then be at a

  • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:35PM (#34947556)

    On the one hand, you're introducing corrosive seawater to the mix. And you're putting it in a cramped, high pressure environment, though if it's heavily automated that won't cause as many problems as if it had a large full time crew aboard.

    On the positive side, you've now got a handy, high heat capacity, thermally conductive environment to work with, which nuke plants benefit from. And you're making it such that any contamination from a disaster will be limited to irradiated seawater instead of airborne fallout, which is a good trade off as far as limiting both human and environmental damage goes. Not that contaminating the water is a good thing, but airborne fallout is much, much worse.

    Plus, when you want to decommission one of these things, you can tow it to wherever it's going, instead of dismantling it on-site and taking it away in pieces.

    • So, the first use of nuclear power plants was in submarines. Which is to say, these engineering concerns have been being addressed for as long as we've been using nuclear power.
      • by toastar ( 573882 )

        So, the first use of nuclear power plants was in submarines.

        The Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant came on-line about 6 months before the nautilus was launched.

        • Other way around. Nautilus was launched in January 21st 1954. Obninsk came on-line in June 26, 1954.

          Also, Nautilus was powered by a 2nd generation submarine reactor, the 1st generation prototype was a land-based but built inside a submarine hill and was first used for power operations in May of 1953.

    • Desalination. That's the first step to nuclear coolant.
    • Realistic question/statement (I do not know the answer). Could contaminating the ocean bed cause spread the toxic chemical to all the worlds oceans? Things tend to precipitate out of the air quicker than they do water, thus im envisioning the ocean spreading the contamination further?
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:37PM (#34947576) Journal
    My impression(not speaking as an expert shipwright or anything) is that if you want to take a land-based system and get it going for reliable marine use, you'll be lucky if the cost doubles(Boat. Noun. A hole in the water into which one pours money). That, though, I I can see the benefits of. The art and science of building large floating objects is pretty well established, and then you pretty much plunk the reactor on top of that. Nice and portable, coolant all around, and sure beats trying to make your nuclear reactor a helicopter or something. Float it where you need it, run a glorified extension cable to shore, and away you go.

    Underwater, though, just seems like a recipe for making the whole thing even more expensive than on the water, along with harder to monitor and maintain, and likely to be much more exciting if there is a steam leak or something. Is there some advantage that I am not seeing, or is this a case of "when you are a post-cold-war-nuclear-submarine-designer everything looks like it needs an underwater nuclear reactor"?
    • I'm with you. Now if they were say converting old nuclear submarines into power plants, at least they'd be re-using something people had already thrown money through. Plus they'd be able to return to France to refuel. :)
      • Submarine reactors are measured in tens of kilowatts, much too small to be of practical use for power generation.

        • That's why they'd convert them. Duh. (But thanks for the info, I really had no idea.)
        • Ahem. You are looking at the electrical production of submarines, not the thermal output of the reactor. Electrical production is around 10% and the main engine takes the other 90%, if you remove the main engine and substitute a huge generator set a couple hundred megawatts should be easy.
        • Submarine reactors are measured in tens of kilowatts, much too small to be of practical use for power generation.

          Akula class sub: 100,000 hp, or 74.6 Mw at the shaft.

        • 150-165 MW thermal. I'll let you do the conversion...
    • by RsG ( 809189 )

      The biggest advantage I can see, which I posted just before you did, is containment. A surface nuclear power plant gets the same benefit as a submerged one in terms of cooling and remoteness, but in the event of a catastrophic failure, the underwater one will not send tons of fallout into the stratosphere. You'd still get some contamination making it into the air via the hydrological cycle (think Tritium contaminated rainfall), but not on the same order of magnitude as if the same disaster had occurred on

      • With the realistic risk of catastrophic failure in a modern reactor (i.e. negligible) I'd be doubtful of whether the extra 'safety feature' of immersion is worth the associated difficulties.

    • There are huge cost savings with not having to buy real estate, deal with local govt, residents, hippies etc. All the uncontrollable costs which add the most to power plant costs. A fully portable unit would have fixed costs every time, and can be built in volume. I wouldn't be surprised if it actually works out cheaper overall once all social/political costs that are normally associated with a regular power plant are factored in
      • Umm, you still have the issue with the residents, hippies, etc. As a beachfront resident, would you feel safe knowing that 5 miles outside your big windows you have a nuclear reactor--as opposed to a wind farm? To add, hippies do like "the sea", fish, and underwater nature, so that doesn't really change. The only thing that would change is that the local government's objections end at the city limits, which may be at the shore...
      • There are huge cost savings with not having to buy real estate, deal with local govt, residents, hippies etc.

        There is nothing in the world more likely to stir up a fuss than water.

        Recreational and commercial fisheries. Drilling platforms. Boating and shipping. Beaches and harbors.

        You will be hearing from the locals.

    • >I wonder why underwater?

      Because it reduces the NIMBY factor.

    • by Dog's_Breakfast ( 771023 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @09:53PM (#34947710)
      Putting the powerplant underwater (as opposed to on a floating platform) would have a big advantage in protecting it from storms. Once you submerge about 60 meters, you are pretty much immune to the effects of even the biggest hurricanes or tsunamis.
    • Security is probably another advantage to add to those already mentioned. At a depth of 100 meters, it is not easily accessible and it is then probably easier to secure from any unauthorized access.
      • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @01:11AM (#34948902) Homepage Journal

        >>Security is probably another advantage to add to those already mentioned. At a depth of 100 meters, it is not easily accessible and it is then probably easier to secure from any unauthorized access.

        Efficiency is also a nice plus. As we all know from physics, the efficiency of an engine depends on the size of the difference in temperature between the hot and cold reservoirs. The colder the water you pump in, the more work you can extract from a cycle.

        On a related note, France has had to shut down some of its reactors during the heat waves they've been getting in recent years, due to the plants' water supply becoming too warm. For a country that relies on nukes for its power, I can see why they'd find marine plants to be attractive.

        It all comes down to cost, though. TFA had no information on pricing.

    • Well there are some benefits. It's inherently secure against nuclear proliferation or terrorist attack. It is likely to be much safer in an nuclear accident because it is surrounded by a almost limitless heatsink, also because it's surrounded by water it doesn't need anywhere near as much shielding. That's where the benefits end though. It will be completely automated which has been a disaster before in the nuclear industry, it will need to be removed for any maintenance, and it will be transmitting power u
  • Did these people not see Godzilla?

  • If they ever got a leak.

    It'll be like Deepwater Horizon all over again. But with radioactive stuff. This sounds like disaster-film material!

    • by RsG ( 809189 )

      Don't be absurd.

      If the reactor were to suffer a total catastrophic failure, it would be moderately bad. Not Chernobyl bad, and not Windscale bad either - it's smaller for one thing, and less likely to endanger human lives. The human cost would be low, the environmental cost would be non-trivial and difficult to estimate, and the economic cost would be high. I'd put the scale of a worst case disaster on par with Deepwater Horizon, albeit different enough that it's apples to oranges.

      But the key phrase ther

    • Great plot for a Michael Bay film, but pretty boring reality. In the unlikely (very unlikely considering the whole thing is a pressure vessel and heat sink) event of a leak to the environment the actual fallout would be minimal. Nuclear submarines have been lost before under bad circumstances and you don't see huge amounts of wildlife killed or huge amounts of contamination. Some contamination would settle out within a couple hundred feet of the leak and the rest would be diluted so quickly it would be unde
  • From the TFA:

    It is transported to sea on a heavy lift ship which lowers itself to allow Flexblue to maneuvre under its own power.

    So if someone hacks the control systems can they pilot it away?

    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

      At a whopping 15 knots or so (don't expect the plant to outpace a heavy lift ship by any stretch of the imagination), it probably wouldn't make for a very exciting Michael Bay film.

  • by Doug Neal ( 195160 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @10:55PM (#34948138)

    MWe, is that a French megawatt? Une megawatte?

  • Considering land-based reactors can be >1 gigawatts per unit.. I guess it's a good start.

  • This is VERY old idea, directly stolen from Russians. []

    The idea there was essentially the same - you mount reactor derived from other naval reactors and mount it on a large, specialized barge. Part about it being submarine rather then marine is most likely a gimmick designed to attract attention to the project, seeing how unfeasible such a construction actually seems - the maintenance alone becomes far more difficult. In a nutshell, it's a si

  • I wonder if it could be modified to desalinate seawater and/or produce H2 in off peak hours? I wonder how much security would be needed to protect it from terrorists with depth charges? I wonder what angle the tree-huggers (coral-huggers?) would use to argue against it?
  • It'll combine the nail-biting drama of Chernobyl with the easy accessibility of the Deepwater Horizon! ;)

  • There's no one to surrender to under water.

APL hackers do it in the quad.