Thinking Tech

France's latest green idea: underwater nuclear reactors

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Among the array of viable alternative energy options, nuclear power hasn't been getting much love from the eco-conscious community. But in France, the technology has become the hands-down way to go green.

Among the array of viable alternative energy options, nuclear power hasn't been getting much love from the eco-conscious community. But in France, the technology has become the hands-down way to go green.

For instance, officials at DCNS, a naval company that services the French government, have announced plans to develop a nuclear reactor that will operate offshore and sit somewhere along the ocean floor. Protected inside a cylinder roughly the length of a football field, the proposed "Flexblue" reactor would be capable of producing up to 250 megawatts of energy --  enough to power a million homes.

The news is hardly surprising for a country that gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors, according to the TV news program 60 Minutes.

Company executives say that the reactor's design coupled with the concept of storing it 300 feet below the sea should ease some of the safety qualms people have with nuclear power plants. Scheduled for installation in 2016, the reactor will be able to withstand natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods, according to CEO Patrick Boissier's interview with the online publication Platt.

He also mentions that it will be far less vulnerable to terrorist attacks than a land-based nuclear reactor, with the added benefit of the ocean as a built-in coolant.

Although these relatively portable reactors can't compete with large-scale nuclear power plants that supply upwards of 1,200 megawatts of energy to the power-hungry masses, they are much lighter on the wallet. Compared to nuclear power complexes that can require a hefty investment of three to five billion dollars, the estimated cost for one small modular reactor that delivered 25 megawatts of energy, according to an article in IEEE Spectrum magazine, was around 50 million dollars.

While concerns about the technology remain, the potential for significant savings, experts say, can at least sway more people to give nuclear power a closer look.

Photo: DCNS

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure