Nuclear power plants that float on the surface of the sea could ride out dangerous tsunamis like the one that devastated Japan's Fukushima plant following a 2011 earthquake, researchers say.

Nuclear plants built atop floating platforms, following the model of offshore drilling facilities, could survive a worst-case scenario of losing all power to the cooling systems for its reactor cores.

At Fukushima, it was not the earthquake or even the flooding from the tsunami that caused the disaster of nuclear contamination; it is because of the loss of electrical power to the station and the subsequent failure of its cooling systems.

A floating nuclear power plant would be intended to be cooled by its surrounding seawater if its internal power was lost, preventing fuel rods from melting and preventing radioactive material from escaping.

The design concept has been presented at a nuclear reactor symposium in Washington, D.C. by researchers from The University of Wisconsin, MIT and the offshore platform and nuclear plant construction firm Chicago Bridge and Iron.

Floating plants could be constructed in a shipyard. When completed, it will be towed to a location 5 to 7 miles offshore and could be anchored to the seafloor while underwater power transmission lines would connect them to land.

Once moored in about 300 feet of water, such floating nuclear power plants would feel no effect from the motion of a passing tsunami wave, and earthquakes would not affect them either

The biggest risks facing land-based nuclear power plants like overheating and possible meltdown as occurred in Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, would be almost impossible on the ocean.

"It's very close to the ocean, which is essentially an infinite heat sink, so it's possible to do cooling passively, with no intervention," MIT professor Jacopo Buongiorno says. "The reactor containment itself is essentially underwater."

Suitable locations for nuclear plants on land are expensive and becoming more difficult to find, he says, making an ocean location very attractive.

"The ocean is inexpensive real estate," he added.

Asia, with its rapidly growing requirement for more power sources but an attendant risk of tsunamis, would be likely market for such floating facilities.

"It would make a lot of sense for Japan," Buongiorno concluded, adding that Indonesia, Chile, and Africa could also benefit from the use of such floating plants.

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