Powered Off the Ocean Floor

The state-owned French naval defence firm DCNS (Direction des Constructions Navales) says it plans to install small scale nuclear reactors in submarines, anchored off the French coast each of which can provide power to about 85,000 homes connected by submarine cable.

Flexblue is a project to anchor small nuclear power plants in submarines off the French coast

The number of submarine plants to be deployed has not been revealed but each can reportedly generate 50 to 250 MW of electricity.

Announcing its Flexblue project, DCNS, which has a built and supplied submarines to the French navy for more than 40 years, said it is adapting one of these models to house a small-sized reactor — 100m in length and 15m wide, controlled remotely, lying 60 to 100 metres underwater, protected by mesh nets and monitored from on-shore — which could eventually supply electricity to between 100 000 and 1 million homes around the coast through submarine cables.

The news follows an earlier annoucement that France — home to one of Europe’s most extensive nuclear energy networks — is planning to play catch-up with other eco-foolish EU states and build vastly over-rated, taxpayer-subsidised wind turbine arrays off the Saint-Nazaire and Dieppe/Le Tréport shores at a cost of €10 billion. (Similar plans for the Languedoc-Roussillon coast, have been put on hold following opposition from the Mediterranean tourist industry and local mayors.)

An EU survey of attitudes to climate change among the European population, carried out before Climategate and the Copenhagen and Mexican fiascos, showed some 57% of the French believed climate change to be a serious problem, against the EU27 average of just 47% — “poverty and the lack of food and drinking water” were seen as more pressing issues by the French with 80% expressing concerns. However the government itself has cooled considerably on its support for le Grenelle Environnement alternative energies programme as global opinion appears to be swinging away from climate change fanaticism. Sceptics in the UK now outnumber believers according to one recent report. Those expressing a view in this survey regard the climate change movement as yet another government tax opportunity and a mecca for multinationals set to make significant profits out of dubious technology based on discredited science.

If the Flexblue and wind array plans go ahead residents and visitors alike may soon find themselves disporting with the jelly fish in waves flanked either by a windmill-disfiguring seascape or by emotively-charged mini-nuclear plants lurking beneath the sea. Marine high-tech all set to bring you new thrills on your next holiday.

According to a report in Wired Magazine: “Deployment would be tricky. Given the obvious security concerns over a nuclear plant, it would need to be given a naval escort to its seabed location … if something were to go wrong, the contamination of a large area of the sea could be very problematic.”

The Brest-based newspaper Le Télégramme spoke to Patrick Boissier CEO of DCNS, who sang the praises of his project: “Flexblue will be remotely operated from the shore and respect the environment. Once docked underwater Flexblue will not be disturbed by storms, earthquakes or tsunamis and being underwater has a significant advantage, because the sea is an infinite source of cooling for the reactor”.

Here’s how Powergen, the multinational power company described the project in its rolling power news report: “Global moves to deploy small reactors have led to a new concept unveiled today by France’s DCNS – a small offshore nuclear power plant called Flexblue, a cylindrical unit 100 metres in length and 12 to 15 metres in diameter. Inside would be a small nuclear power reactor as well as steam generators, turbines and a generator to produce 50 to 250 MWe.The vision is for such a unit to be installed on the seabed 60 to 100 metres underwater, several kilometres from a centre of power demand such as a city, industrial base or remote community which it would serve via underwater cables.

A video released today depicts the unit’s deployment under naval guard:

Flexblue is transported to sea on a heavy lift ship which lowers itself to allow the sub to maneuvre under its own power. DCNS said it had been working on the Flexblue concept for over two years. It said that both Electricité de France and Areva had “expressed interest in Flexblue’s modularity and standardisation.” The three companies as well as the CEA are now to begin the next two-year phase of development. DCNS wants to demonstrate Flexblue has a level of safety comparable to Generation-III reactors. A market is emerging for these small units. which could be factory-built, transported whole to the place of use and returned complete with used fuel for management by the vendor.”

Story: Ken Pottinger

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