In China they do not walk with delicacies, and it is evident that in everything that has to do with the security related to the operation of nuclear reactors it is essential to have a good grip by the handle. This Asian country is developing its first civilian vessel equipped with a modular and compact nuclear reactor (SMR) capable of delivering a power of 60 megawatts. It will be ready in 2022 and will be used to supply electricity, heat and drinking water to oil rigs hosted in the South China Sea. It will be a real floating nuclear power plant.
The engineers who are participating in its design and construction have carried out a simulation that seeks to test its ability to withstand adverse climatic events. These tests have taken place in a naval research and design center housed in Wuhan (China), and according to the technicians who have carried them out, this ship will be able to withstand extreme typhoons and maintain operability under winds close to 200 km / h, high energy waves and high intensity currents.
Although it is impossible to reduce the risk of accident to zero, in the field of nuclear reactor operation it is essential to put all the technological development that we have achieved at the service of safety
Although it is impossible to reduce the risk of accident to zero, no compromise should be accepted in the field of nuclear reactor operation. It is essential to put all the technological development that we have achieved at the service of safety, so that the engineers who have designed this Chinese ship assure that they have put all the meat on the grill to prevent it from tipping over even if the weather is extremely adverse (a rollover would compromise the safety of the nuclear reactor in a very serious way).
In fact, according to them, its design will be able to withstand extreme climatic events that occur “Once every 10,000 years”. Let us trust that this is really the case, but we must not overlook the fact that this is by no means the first civilian ship to incorporate one or more nuclear reactors within it. Some of the countries that have, or have had, nuclear-powered ships are the United States, Russia, Germany and Japan, and if we stick to military ships there are several countries that have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, such as the United States , Russia, France or the United Kingdom.
Nuclear power plant safety was strengthened after Fukushima
Understandably, many people are concerned that one of the many nuclear-powered ships currently operating around the world may have an accident. The Chinese ship equipped with an SMR reactor to which we have dedicated this article may contribute to increasing this unease, so it is a good time to remember what the experts tell us. It is very interesting everything that refers to the safety improvements introduced in the nuclear power plants after the Fukushima accident, and to which the reactor of the new Chinese ship is also subjected.
At the end of 2019 we had the opportunity to interview Ignacio Araluce, a physicist and nuclear engineer who currently chairs Nuclear Forum, an association that represents the interests of the Spanish nuclear industry. This technician explained to us in great detail what is the strategy implemented in current nuclear power plants to maximize safety during reactor operation:
“Since the Fukushima accident, the power plants have mobile teams that are mobilized if the generators fail”
«All the systems of the plant are designed from the same defense in depth principle. This causes systems such as the reactor cooling system to be redundant, so if one fails, the other will continue to perform its function, which, in addition, will be powered by a different energy. And if the systems fail, the entire primary circuit is designed so that a natural circulation is established, so that there is a movement of water through the core by gravity and a difference in temperatures that cools it.
“The nuclear power plant also has its own electrical power generators, which are redundant. And since the Fukushima accident, the plants have mobile teams that mobilize if generators fail to directly inject cooling into nuclear fuel. This is where the technological redundancy goes, but there is another level that is even more important: the safety culture. The training of all the people who work in a nuclear power plant is individualized and permanent throughout their professional careers ”, points out Ignacio.
Another expert who also knows very well the security measures implemented in current nuclear power plants is Alfredo García, much better known on Twitter for his alter ego @Nuclear Operator. We spoke with him at length last spring, and, like Ignacio Araluce, during our conversation he emphasized additional security measures that have been adopted by all the nuclear power plants on the planet after the accident in Japan in March 2011:
“After Fukushima, the security of all nuclear power plants in the world was strengthened, which were subjected to very important stress tests”
«After Fukushima, the security of all nuclear power plants in the world was strengthened, which were subjected to very important stress tests during which all the parameters of the plant were reviewed, especially those that were related to what had happened in Fukushima, such as its ability to withstand floods, earthquakes or blackouts in the electrical network. And once all of that was reviewed was standardized around the world the incorporation of a series of measures to mitigate and prevent this type of accident. This strategy is known as “flex,” which is short for flexibility. “
Nuclear energy has been polarizing the opinion of both experts and citizens for decades, mainly due to the possible risks derived from the operation of reactors. And also due to the management of radioactive waste. This has caused some countries, such as Spain or Germany, to have decided to gradually shut down their nuclear power plants, while others, such as the United States, China, France or Russia, will maintain their commitment to this form of energy in the future as a backup of renewable sources. Time will confirm which of these strategies offers us a better result in the medium and long term.
Cover image | Griffin Wooldridge
Via | South China Morning Post