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French company proposes offshore nuclear power

Building nuclear power stations underwater could help protect them from terrorist attacks, according to a French company hoping to do just that.

DCNS, the state-owned submarine-building and nuclear engineering firm, plans to conduct a validation study on its designs for a small subsea power plant for supplying coastal regions with electricity.

The Flexblue plant would sit on the seafloor at a depth of 60m to 100m, a few kilometres off shore, and have an electrical output of between 50MW and 250MW. By comparison Sizewell B power station in Suffolk has an output of almost 1200MW.

The power plant’s design makes Flexblue resistant to tsunamis, earthquakes or floods and its underwater position makes it less vulnerable to terrorist attacks, the company told The Engineer.

Andre Kolmayer, the company’s vice president for civil nuclear, said: ‘One challenge of the Flexblue concept is to bring together two worlds – nuclear energy and naval shipbuilding.’

With the exception of the long-standing cooperation in nuclear propulsion systems for DCNS-designed warships for the French Navy, the worlds of nuclear energy and shipbuilding have followed essentially parallel paths.

‘The idea of bringing these two worlds together is the result of our group’s determination to expand into the energy sector by exploiting its unique engineering expertise.’

The power plant would comprise a small nuclear reactor, a steam turbine-alternator set, an electrical plant and associated electrical equipment.

Power cables would carry electricity from the Flexblue plant to the coast and a system of ballast tanks would be used to raise or lower the plant during installation and for major maintenance, refuelling or dismantling.

The reactor design mirrors that of nuclear submarines in that it would attempt to prevent any contact between nuclear materials and the marine environment.

Three barriers, similar to those of existing reactors, would protect the reactor core from leaking – a fuel cladding, a reactor vessel and a hull.

Underwater submersion would provide a natural means of cooling the reactor, as well as enhancing security, and the only substance released into the environment would be the seawater used for cooling.

DCNS will conduct a technical and licensing design certification over the next two years in partnership with French nuclear energy commission CEA, nuclear conglomerate AREVA and energy company EDF.

If the design is validated, a prototype could be built by 2016.

The French submarine nuclear power plant developed by DCNS and AREVA

Readers' comments (7)

  • I do like this idea based on naval technology and would like to see it taken up. Remote parts of the world could effectively be supplied and with minimal affect on the landscape. Refuelling might be as simple as floar one up and replace it with another, the first being taken to a safe facility.

    Combining output for largr consumption would be similar to adding batteries to a pack. Nice idea I hope that Barrow in Furness is looking at this or parts of Scotland as the skills are already there.

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  • Seems like a valuable idea, certainly worth pursuing.

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  • Dead on arrival - When terrorist attack potential is minimal as an onshore facility can easily be guarded.

    Undersea no one will have the potential to create trouble? Actually it would be much easier to approach the unit and place a bomb underwater. Many parties have the capability.

    Tsunami problem? That is a surface phenomena to start with.

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  • This is certainly not a new idea, a British engineer came up with the idea many years ago.

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  • Ok, so let us all take a page from the OIL industry, BP + Deep water wells = Disaster. and now you want to build a Nuke plant in a place where there is no access in the event of failure, "China Syndrome" that can not be stopped? When will you people learn?..And do you really think the cost will come in at budget. Above ground plants cost hundreds of millions to build..Perhaps in 2050 we can explore this again. Not Now.

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  • Comments above---
    Tsunami's in and around Europe. nope did not think so.

    Deepwater placement and terrorists, need submarine to get close and not a haversack.

    China Syndrome, we build these things for submarines and warships, the text describes the ability to raise them to the surface. We take the same risks onshore with failure. The costs will be what they are for subs I suppose without the warheads and torpedoes plus minus R&D.

    Why all the objections, dour faced bunch, I can just see you with Alcock and Brown, it will never take off as a good idea.

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  • Water is a moderator. Surely this creates a big problem if there is a leak!

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