Why are nuclear powered ships allowed? Won’t an accidental meltdown or when destroyed (for warships) cause a lot of harm to the environment?

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Mudassir Ali
Feb 06, 2020 03:35 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 06, 2020 03:35 PM

Accidental meltdown? I spent five years on a carrier as a reactor operator and, when bored – which was often while on watch because the reactors are inherently stable and run themselves – one of the tricks I used to keep my mind on nuclear power, for professionalism’s sake – and to enhance my own knowledge as well as try to think “outside the box” to be ready to prevent all scenarios, was to play Devil’s Advocate as if I were some Anti-Nuclear Fearmonger: Try to figure out a way the reactor could meltdown.

Apart from having the entire group of highly trained nuclear operators go rogue at the same time, we couldn’t figure it out. For five years.

Am I some great nuclear engineer? No. I’m not infallible. But the thing was rated to be protected against some absolutely ridiculous things, and had the advantage of being a generation more advanced than all those reactors you’ve heard about having meltdown, because somehow people think all reactors are created equal, and that we should judge nuclear power off of some of our earliest designs and not the generation of reactor being discussed. Could such a meltdown occur? Sure, and we train assuming it will for the sake of safety, and because that’s the Nuclear culture: assume the worst so anything less harmful is practically a blessing.

One of the great things about maritime reactors is their size. Much like the SMRs in development, they are insanely difficult to try to melt-down because their volume-to-surface-area-ratio is substantially adequate to keep them cool if something bad happens. It’s not perfect for, say, carriers, but it’s an advantage. Submarine reactors? They theoretically could melt down, but that’s using lots of highly conservative figures; it takes a lot of “fudge factor” and assuming that the original calculations were wrong. In actuality? No. Real physics pretty much says “no.” The calculations done were indeed correct. I’ve seen this in practice with my own two eyes. For carriers, it’s largely the same; you have to start assuming that the carrier has been doing operations that carriers just don’t do.

Even if the ship was sunk, the reactor is made of thick, very strong steel worthy of being a battleship of its own accord; they’re also cylindrical, making them even more sturdy, and are behind multiple layers of thick radiation shielding. As others have mentioned, several nuclear powered ships have sunk with no harm to the environment.

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