Fast Company

Undersea Nuclear Power Stations Could Be En Route to France

Flexblue 1

Nuclear submarine technology (truly cold war terror science) may one day have peaceful payoffs: A French firm is planning modified submarine nuclear power stations, able to provide clean juice to remote communities.

We've heard of some odd small to medium-sized nuclear power plant schemes before, but this one takes the biscuit: Areva, a "world leader in nuclear energy" based in France has launched a program to study 100MW-scale reactors which, in partnership with DCNS, will go into Flexblue power stations. These small, largely self-contained facilities will provide 50MW to 250MW and are supposed to be "installed on the seafloor off the coast of maritime nations."

The system is based on "proven technologies" coming from DCNS's "40 years' experience" in building nuclear-powered submarines in France, and it has a number of the same benefits as land-based small nuclear power plants including "phased investment" and "ready tailoring to demand" but incorporates "standard subsystems integrated at shipyards and shipped to the installation site by sea."

Looking a lot like a simple uncrewed sub, the Flexblue is a 100 meter long cylinder, around 12 meters across which contains the small nuclear core, steam turbine and alternator equipment and all the associated electrical gear needed to condition the electricity ready to be shipped ashore by submarine power cables. The 12,000 tonne affair is equipped with low-power maneuvering thrusters which help it power off its delivery ship (which partly submerges at the location) and help place it 60 to 100 meters down in the water a few kilometers off the chosen coast.

But why put a nuclear power station under the sea? There are a number of benefits in terms of excess heat dissipation, and at the depths the Flexblue was to be sunk there would be little chance of visiting divers attempting any kind of terrorist intervention. A surface-based marine guard force, undersea fence and sophisticated sensor system would be all that's needed. Submarine reactor expertise is also highly developed, and the risk of catastrophic accidents is much much lower than that demonstrated by actual maneuverable nuke submarines. And although there are many detractors for nuclear power, it is actually a pretty green power source, one that doesn't contribute to global warming. And for remoter locations, a Flexblue installation would be a fast and efficient way to add electrical supply to the region without needing any surface-based infrastructure, including the kind of supply systems needed for coal or oil-powered stations.

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