Singapore considers buried small nuclear reactors

New Scientist – Singapore, a tiny island country whose population would have no place to go in the event of a wide-scale evacuation, is giving buried nuclear reactors a closer look.

The thinking is that you could bury a small reactor in a shallow layer of bedrock, perhaps 30-50 meters underground. Then, if things at the plant go south for any reason, the granite will provide natural containment; simply cement in any access tunnels going down to the facility and walk away.

The idea was first floated last fall by Hooman Peimani an energy security specialist at the National University of Singapore. Countries with nuclear power typically build large-scale reactors 15 to 20 km away from heavily populated residential areas. Singapore, a country of roughly 700 square kilometers, doesn’t have a potential site even 3 km from residential areas, Peimani says.

Going underground would significantly increase the costs of any reactor. Peimani says only small reactors 30-50 megawatts in size, one-twentieth the size of conventional large-scale reactors, would be cost effective.

Dr Peimani is the head of the Energy Security Division at the National University of Singapore’s Energy Studies Institute. Last August, he presented a paper on the viability of underground nuclear reactors in Singapore at the Nuclear Power conference.

Earthquake prone areas or regions with high water tables wouldn’t work. The limitations would rule out much of Japan but wouldn’t preclude Singapore, Peimani says.

Singapore is currently dependent on natural gas imported from Indonesia and Malaysia for much of its electricity production but is building a massive liquefied natural gas terminal that would allow the country to import the fuel from anywhere in the world.

The Singapore government authorized a feasibility study for underground reactors last year without setting a timetable for completion. Peimani says recent events in Japan may help push the idea forward.

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