Floating the Nuclear Idea

Stuart Ballantyne floats the idea of floating nuclear plants as a solution to our government-imposed power crisis.

Floating the Nuclear Idea

About 20 years ago, a seat-warming Senator came out of hiding and declared his thought bubble that Australia’s coast was getting overpopulated and that Australians should consider populating the centre of the country.

I challenged the hapless Senator to lead “by example” and set up a home in the Simpson Desert.

In a column at the time, I did comment, hoping that his wife and kids would not accompany him, as it would be a shame to think there was more than one dope in the same family.

Ninety-two per cent of Australians live within 50 km of the coast and rivers—that’s what we like to do!

Base load power stations, which are subsequently within populated coastal areas and remote areas of Australia, get their energy by using fossil-fuelled generators, largely from diesel transported past their door by ships to distribution centres and then redelivered locally by trucks or barges. 

As efforts to decarbonise global energy systems expand, one solution could be to use floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs).

Many countries have floating power stations in existing ports, diesel or gas-powered. The Russians were the first in 2019 to place a 70MW FNPP, the Akademic Lomonosov, in the remote town of Vilyuchinsk, in  Far East Russia, replacing the shut-down Bilibino NPP and the aging Chaunsk coal power plant.

As a matter of interest, I have been informed by a colleague that the “must-do” breakfast in Vilyuchinsk is toast and caviar!

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Symposium on floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs) took place from 14 to 15 November 2023 in Vienna.

This meeting highlighted the growing interest in installing small modular reactors (SMRs) and Micro Modular Reactors (MMRs) on floating barges or ships to provide clean electricity and heat for remote coastal locations, decarbonise energy activities by providing grid-scale electricity, and unlock cost reductions through repeat production in shipyards.

Topan Setiadipura, the Co-Chair of the Symposium and Head of the Research Centre for Nuclear Reactor Technology (BRIN) in Indonesia, said:

“Floating NPPs are an interesting option for Indonesia as many power companies already have floating diesel or gas power plants. However, acquiring more information and knowledge is essential to understanding whether embarking countries like Indonesia could use FNPPs in the future to replace fossil-fuelled floating power plants”.

During the symposium, discussions focused on current and future designs of FNPPs and their uses.

Participants also examined the specific challenges that the movability of FNPPs pose for their licensing, regulation, transportation and application of safeguards. Nuclear safety and security were discussed, including the extent to which the current standards and practices can or cannot be applied to FNPPs.

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