China's growing military ambitions have pushed it to develop a
. The country's growing energy demands are now following the same
Nuclear power: coming to an ocean near you? Source:
/ Wikimedia Commons.
That's right; China wants to develop
floating nuclear power plants
-- and it's joining forces with Russia to make it happen. The
latter has already laid out ambitious plans for the unproven
concept, but has been smacked with setbacks and cost overruns.
While China may hold a big enough checkbook to see development
through, some may wonder if offshore nuclear holds a place in the
future of atomic energy, especially with novel and seemingly more
feasible designs being pursued by
General Electric Company
Babcock & Wilcox
, and even Bill Gates.
While floating nuclear power plants seem outrageous enough to
most, the prospects of Russia and China finding common ground for
a massive energy deal seemed exponentially slim just one year
ago. Yet, despite a relatively shaky energy relationship in
recent years, the two countries have been cozying up since late
spring when a $400 billion natural gas supply deal was finalized.
Less than three months later the pair is extending its reach to
offshore nuclear power. Apparently, the abundant energy reserves
and know-how of Russia and the choking population and air of
China were all the common ground needed to forge a deal.
Russia has plans of its own before China gets involved.
Nuclear leader Rosatom aims to deploy the world's first floating
nuclear power plant in Russia's eastern city of Vilyuchinsk in
2018. The facility will have two nuclear reactors, each about 35
MWe, and sport a planned lifetime of 38 years -- roughly in line
with traditional nuclear facilities. However, the floating
facility will be built on a massive barge and moored to the
shoreline, which will inevitably forfeit some of the major safety
advantages of a floating facility in the first place.
World Nuclear Association
In 2019 Rosatom and China will begin developing up to six
offshore nuclear facilities. While details have yet to be
announced, Russia's original national blueprints called for
floating nuclear power plants with up to 650 MWe of capacity.
Whether or not reactors combine for that output will depend on
the location of each new facility, but the scrapped plans do hint
at power plants much larger than what is planned for 2018.
Is this the future of nuclear power?
At a time when General Electric and
are plowing ahead with novel Generation IV designs that
consume nuclear waste
, floating nuclear power may seem like quite the head-scratcher.
It's expensive and time-consuming enough to develop novel reactor
designs onshore, so why take concepts offshore? Similarly, many
atomic energy leaders such as Babcock & Wilcox are moving
smaller, modular nuclear reactors
, which would also represent a solution for remote regions and
large industrial complexes -- two major markets for floating
However, it's important to note that two factors inflating the
high cost of construction for new nuclear power plants are land
and insurance. Facilities must be built close to bodies of water,
which typically support higher real estate prices and larger
populations, therefore making insurance costs exorbitantly high.
A nuclear power plant towed offshore and surrounded by
inexpensive real estate in the open ocean would not face the same
problems. Additionally, in the event of an accident the core
could easily be flooded with an endless amount of cold seawater.
Decommissioning would also be much easier since reactors could be
towed to a centralized location -- restoring the natural
environment to normal nearly instantly.
The concept is actually not that new. Similar designs have
been developed in the United States by researchers at
, although the latter proposes building floating nuclear power
plants far offshore and with reactor cores fully submerged --
both for added safety over the first Rosatom design.
In addition to increased safety, there's substantially more
ocean available for nuclear power development than land. That's
potentially great news for the planet, which will need an
expedited build-out of its atomic energy capacity to make the
nearly overnight changes required to
stem climate change
and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It may seem foreign now, but
offshore nuclear may be the norm for energy generation by
Foolish bottom line
Russia is obviously attempting to divest from the West (or at
least increase its investment in the East) after the
growth-restricting sanctions slapped on its economy over its role
in the Ukrainian upheaval. However, floating nuclear power plants
could provide real and meaningful energy capacity for Chinese
cities and industry in a relatively short amount of time. In the
longer term, similar concepts may even be deployed in the United
States next to novel, next-generation reactor designs by General
Electric and Babcock & Wilcox. It may be our only real hope
to quickly stabilize the atmosphere's carbon imbalance.
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Russia and China Are Planning Something Big --
and It Floats
originally appeared on Fool.com.
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