Floating Nuclear Power: A Resurfacing Concept

July 2017

The concept of floating nuclear power plants recently resurfaced. It is under review in Siberia, led by Russia, and a potential fleet is under consideration for the South China Sea by China. Sounds like something from science fiction except that it was contemplated almost 50 years in the past. PSE&G contracted to have two nuclear power plants built at a shipyard in Florida and then floated up to the New Jersey coast. The project was cancelled in 1978 in part because the 1970s energy crisis caused local power demand to fall off.

Supporting Points:

  • Nuclear power remains emission free, and smaller nuclear plants are thought by some to represent the future for nuclear
  • Floating nuclear many have applications in developing countries and in remote communities driving toward electrification
  • Constructing floating plants in a centralized location in an industrialized country would provide good-paying jobs
  • Completed plants can “float” to an offshore spot near remote or developing regions, providing power where needed as dozens of coastal countries could use more energy
  • Floating nuclear power plants would solve the need for access to large amounts of water

Cautionary Concerns:

  • Floating nuclear represents a first-of-its-kind business and with that comes many risks and uncertainties (including construction and permitting)
  • Developers may need to build plants to near military-grade construction standards due to concerns about accidents at sea and/or terrorism (address lessons learned from tsunamis)
  • Isolated spots to head off accidents like boat collisions are needed
  • The total cost of a floating nuclear plant could be double that of a comparable conventional nuclear plant

Pictured below is Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power station as it was being readied in St. Petersburg earlier in 2017 (photo: Peter Kovalev/Tass/Zuma Press).

Implications:

Strong interest exists in emission-free energy sources. Energy demand remains high among developing countries pushing electrification across their nation to better serve their citizens. If floating nuclear plants can find a deep-pocketed visionary (e.g., Elon Musk with electric cars or Jeff Bezos with space travel), then the idea of floating nuclear plants may have potential and could warrant private sector re-examination.

More Information:

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Floating Nuclear Power Plants: China is Far from First

Power Magazine: China Starts Building Floating Nuclear Power Plant

The Daily Mail: China to Build a Fleet of Floating Nuclear for 300 Million British Pounds Each by 2020

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required): The Idea of Floating Nuclear Power Plants Gets a New Look

This report is part of ScottMadden’s Nuclear Minute series. To view all featured Nuclear Minutes, please click here.

View More

Contributing Authors

Harold Lewis Manager

Welcome to ScottMadden!

Sussex Economic Advisors is now part of ScottMadden. We invite you to learn more about our expanded firm. Please use the Contact Us form to request additional information.