Designing Floating Nuclear Plants

Matt Mahowald
February 26, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


The original Russian MH-1A, the first nuclear reactor sent to sea. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

As the fossil fuel supply across the world decreases, energy engineers, physicists, and chemists alike turn to alternative sources to power our world. Among the new sources employed today are wind energy, solar energy, and nuclear energy. The renewable wind and solar energy take lots of infrastructure to capture energy from every day parts of human life, namely our climate. Nuclear energy, on the other hand, requires access to the uranium isotopes necessary for nuclear fission, a non-renewable source. In addition, unlike fields of wind turbines or solar panels, nuclear fission power plants stand overbearing, creating billowing clouds of steam emitting from enormous cooling towers, an eyesore to man. [1] Furthermore, the plants, while harmless if functioning properly, create a potential for disastrous nuclear radiation, as seen in the Three Mile Island accident, Fukushima, and Chernobyl.

Since these accidents, nuclear energy's share on the world's production of energy has reached a plateau at around 20%, as scientists look to provide a safer implementation to fully leverage the potential of nuclear energy, at one point predicted to rise to as much as 50% of the share. [2] Designing nuclear power plants at sea headlines this conversation.

Benefits of Offshore Plants

With the reactors away from civilization, the population will realize immense safety benefits, as any radiation from a potential core meltdown dissipates at sea. Floating reactors prevent damage from tsunamis and earthquakes, moored to the ocean floor in over 100 meters of water. [3] Moreover, the nature of the vessels allows for easy deconstruction after the plant matures, as specified shipyards will be designed to dismantle the reactors, indicating economic advantages. The design of the power plants is scalable, with estimates that floating plants can match the size the largest land-based reactors. Finally, the location of the plants provides the benefit of a seemingly endless supply of cooling fluid, known as dihydrogen monoxide. [4]


Although there still remains a lot of research to be done, work continues to be pushed forward by the likes of China, Russia, and MIT.

© Matt Mahowald. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] F. Harvey, "Hinkley Point Power Station: Eyesore or Beacon of Power?," The Guardian, 20 Oct 13.

[2] M. K. Morris and J. W. Kindt, "The Law of the Sea: Domestic and International Considerations Arising from the Classification of Nuclear Power Plants and Their Breakwaters as Artificial Islands." Va. J. Int. Law 19, 299 (1979).

[3] B. Carey, "A Floating Chernobyl? Popular Science, 9 Oct 06.

[4] "Nuclear Power: All at Sea," The Economist, 26 Apr 14.