|Fig. 1: An existing Russian floating nuclear power plant, constructed in 2007 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).|
In today's post-Fukishima nuclear climate, scientists at the cutting-edge of nuclear research are looking to an unlikely place to situate nuclear reactors - the ocean. MIT researchers and scientists have designed an offshore structure 45 meters in diameter that will generate 300 megawatts of electricity. Inspired by similar Russian projects, including the Acadmic Lomonosov (see Fig. 1), members dub the facility an Offshore Small Modular Reactor (OSMR).  The platform will be similar to an offshore oil rig in that there will be quarters for a crew and several helipads. Plans call for the facility to be moored about 10 miles out to sea. Engineers will attach an underwater cable to link the facility to the onshore power grid. 
Researchers cite multiple benefits to constructing offshore reactors like the OSMR. Firstly, these reactors are impervious to threats like earthquakes and tsunamis; the surrounding water acts as a safeguard against the forces of nature. Moreover, the OSMR would have plenty of water at hand to combat any sort of over-heating incident.  Given the prevalence of offshore oil and gas drilling, there is a substantial amount of existing infrastructure for constructing and transporting offshore platforms. Similar, safety standards already govern typical offshore operating procedures. In addition, the rig would be constructed almost entirely out of steel.  The concrete used to construct onshore reactors is often the reason for prohibitive construction costs and delays. Plus, offshore reactors are movable. That is, at any point, engineers may unmoor the rig in order to provide electricity to a different geographic region. There will be no need for a site cleanup after the plant is no longer in commission.  Currently, as public opinion has stymied the growth of the nuclear energy sector, one of the largest benefits inherent to offshore nuclear reaction is that the plant is out of the public's sight and mind.
MIT researchers are looking at a 10 - 15 year construction timeline.  Researchers will need to be granted regulatory approval, firstly. MIT scientists are gauging interest from both reactor vendors and shipbuilding companies. The project represents an exciting and necessary step forward for the American nuclear energy industry.
© Harrison Caruthers. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for non-commercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 J. Buongiorno et al., "Offshore Small Modular Reactor (OSMR): An Innovative Plant Design for Societally Acceptable and Economically Attractive Nuclear Energy in a Post-Fukushima, Post-9/11 World," American Society of Mechanical Engineers, SMR2014-3306, 15 Apr 14.
 "All At Sea", The Economist, 26 April 2014.
 J. M. Skiba and C. P. Scherer, "Nuclear Security for Floating Nuclear Power Plants," Los Alamos National Laboratory, LA-UR-15-27946, 13 Oct 15.