Chinese engineers are confident their first floating nuclear reactor is sturdy enough to withstand gale force winds. The offshore reactor, located in the Bohai Sea, is used to power ocean-based oil rigs and is reportedly capable of toughing out “once in 10 000-year” storms.
The novel 60GW (gigawatt) reactor was subjected to powerful winds and currents to prove the scientists’ methodology and test the resilience of the offshore nuclear plant.
Sheltered by the Bay of Korea to the north and the Yellow Sea to the south, typhoons and other dangerous weather events are uncommon in the Bohai Sea. However, rare storms do occasionally occur and if a floating reactor were to capsize, the results would be catastrophic.
To test the resilience of the reactors, scientists subjected them to a series of rigorous tests at a specialised facility designed to simulate weather and waves. For several hours, reactors were exposed to severe conditions, including winds speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour (193km/h), all while being battered by waves and undercurrents.
The results were impressive. According to the researchers at the Wuhan Second Ship Design and Research Institute, the volatile reactor was able to remain operational even in near-category 5 hurricane conditions.
Offshore reactors are not a new concept. The US military led the charge in the 1960s and 70s, building the MH-1A reactor in the Panama Canal. The small, 10MW (megawatt) power plant supplied energy to the region from 1968 to the mid-70s and was disassembled in 2019.
Three years ago, Russia developed and launched its first floating reactor. Called the Akademik Lomonosov or the “Nuclear Titanic”, the 70MW station is the world’s most northerly nuclear facility and operates in the Arctic Ocean and is docked in Pevek Harbour, where it supplies power to the local town.
Some private companies are getting in on the act too. The Copenhagen-based startup, Seaborg Technologies, recently secured significant funding to develop and mass-produce thousands of small floating reactors. Each reactor is housed within a floating barge and encased by molten salts which greatly increase the safety of each reactor core.
Co-founder of Seaborg, Troels Schonfeldt, explained that if a reactor were to be compromised by significant damage, the molten salts would solidify around the radioactive core, effectively neutralising the potential for disaster. However, Schonfeldt explained that while many dangers could be mitigated, the potential for an accident was always present.