Floating Nuclear Plant Failed Attempt in 1970s

A blog reader submitted a comment.

Offshore Power Systems was going to build and deploy floating commercial reactors back in the seventies. In fact one of the largest cranes in the world was built in Jacksonville FL in the late seventies where the completed plants could be launched and then towed to there operating sites. Unfortunately one of the greatest President's ever banned any new Nuclear Power Plants in this country! So the crane stood on the Jacksonville skyline as a monumnet to ignorance until the mid 1990s when the chinese bought it dismantled and moved it to China!

Made me curious and found this article in Atomic Insights on Offshore Power Systems attempt to build floating nuclear plants..

Most people associated with the nuclear industry, and many residents of Florida have some knowledge of the ill-fated Westinghouse/Newport News Offshore Power System project.

Begun in 1970, this project was based on two ideas. The first was that a series of identical reactors produced in a factory type setting could be completed in a shorter period of time than a similar number of custom made plants constructed on site. The second was that plants located several miles off shore might be able to avoid the infamous Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome that had begun to plague power plant developers.

Basic Plant Design

By 1970, Westinghouse executives realized that one of the main problems in making nuclear plants competitive was the fact that they were all custom built plants. Company engineers began producing some conceptual designs for smaller, modular plants and checking the reaction of utility executives to the designs.

At Public Service Electric and Gas, based in New Jersey, the designers found some strong interest in standardized plants. However, Richard Eckert, the main proponent of such plants, had some suggestions of his own.

He suggested that the plants should be utility sized, i.e. on the order of 1000 MWe, and constructed so that they could be moored off shore. As the man in charge of finding new sites for power plants, he had discovered that there were a very limited number of sites available in areas where power demands were high. He realized, however, that many such areas were close to the ocean.

After some give and take between the supplier and the customer, the plant design that evolved was essentially a man-made island that could support two 1200 MWe nuclear plants. The power island would be fabricated in a specialized facility, maneuvered to the site and permanently moored behind a large, protective breakwater. Ideally, the plant would be located a bit less than three miles off shore and the power would be sent via underwater cables.

It is ironic what doomed the floating nuclear plant was the 1973 oil embargo which decreased the demand for electricity.


With all of the positives going for this project, it is important to understand why it failed. Surprisingly enough, the initiating event was the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. Typically, an event that leads to a rapid quadrupling of the price of a competitive product is good for business, but the energy industry does not follow normal rules.

The major industrial loads on the Public Service system were oil refineries and petrochemical plants located in places like Newark, New Jersey. The embargo dramatically reduced the demand for their products, so they reduced their purchases of electricity.

Since Public Service's customers needed less electricity, they did not need the capacity represented by the two large plants that they had ordered from Offshore Power Systems. Even though the purchase contracts required them to cover the supplier's costs, including those of building the manufacturing facility, Public Service desperately needed to slow down their capacity additions.

At first Public Service asked for a two year delay, hoping that the "energy crisis" was temporary, but they eventually canceled all orders.

Since the plants and the facilities that had been designed were specifically designed for the production of 1200 MWe central station power plants for the densely populated and prosperous Northeast United States, there was little hope of finding alternative customers. This was unfortunate, since many areas of the world were desperate for moderately sized, non-oil based electric power sources.

Since no business - no matter how good their people, their facilities or their technology - can survive without customers, Offshore Power Systems closed down. The people associated with the project were either relocated or found other employment. Westinghouse sold the Blount Island facility.

The project became a bad memory for many in the nuclear industry, most of whom do not understand the business reasons for the closure. They simply remember that Westinghouse tried floating power plants and failed to produce a single plant. Unfortunately, many industry pessimists see this as a reason to believe that any project based on similar ideas is doomed to fail.