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Underground nuclear power plant siting

Watson, M. B. and Kammer, W. A. and Langley, N. P. and Selzer, L. A. and Beck, R. L. (1972) Underground nuclear power plant siting. Environmental Quality Laboratory Report, 6. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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This study is part of a larger evaluation of the problems associated with siting nuclear power plants in the next few decades. This evaluation is being undertaken by the Environmental Quality Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology in conjunction with The Aerospace Corporation and several other organizations. Current efforts are directed toward novel approaches to siting plants within the State of California. This report contains the results of efforts performed by The Aerospace Corporation to provide input information to the larger evaluation relative to underground siting of large central station nuclear power plants. Projections of electric power demand in California and the country as a whole suggest that a major increase in generating capacity will be required. The problem is complicated beyond that of a large but straightforward extension of capital investment by increased emphasis on environmental factors combined with the early stage of commercial application and regulation of nuclear power sources. Hydroelectric power generation is limited by the availability of suitable sites, and fossil fueled plants are constrained by the availability of high quality fuels and the adverse environmental and/or economic impact from the use of more plentiful fuels. A substantial increase in the number of nuclear power plants is now under way. This source of power is expected to provide the maj or portion of increased capacity. Other power sources such as geothermal and nuclear fusion are unlikely to satisfy the national needs due to technical problems and the lack of a comprehensive development program. There are several problems associated with meeting the projected power demand. Chief among these is the location of acceptable and economic plant sites. Indeed a sufficient number of sites may not be found unless changes occur in the procedures for selecting sites, the criteria for accepting sites, or the type of site required. Placement of a nuclear plant underground has been suggested as an alternative to present siting practices. It is postulated that the advantages of underground siting in some situations may more than compensate for added costs so that such facilities could be preferred even where surface sites are available. By virtue of greater safety, reduced surface area requirements, and improved aesthetics, underground sites might also be found where acceptable surface sites are not available. Four small European reactors have been constructed partially underground but plans for large size commercial plants have not progressed. Consequently, the features of underground power plant siting are not well understood. Gross physical features such as depth of burial, number and size of excavated galleries, equipment layout, and access or exit shafts/tunnels must be specified. Structural design features of the gallery liners, containment structure, foundations, and gallery interconnections must also be identified. Identification of the nuclear, electrical, and support equipment appropriate to underground operation is needed. Operational features must be defined for normal operations, refueling, and construction. Several magazine articles have been published addressing underground concepts. but adequate engineering data is not available to support an evaluation of the underground concept. There also remain several unresolved questions relative to the advantages of underground siting as well as the costs and other possible penalties associated with this novel approach to siting. These include the degree of increased safety through improved containment; the extent and value of isolation from falling objects, e. g. aircraft; the value of isolation from surface storms and tidal waves; the value of protection from vandalism or sabotage; the extent by which siting constraints are relieved through reduced population-distance requirements or aggravated by underground construction requirements; and the value to be placed upon the aesthetic differences of a less visible facility. The study described in this report has been directed toward some of these questions and uncertainties. Within the study an effort has been made to identify viable configurations and structural liners for typical light water reactor nuclear power plants. Three configurations are summarized in Section 3. A discussion of the underground gallery liner design and associated structural analyses is presented in Section 4. Also addressed in the study and discussed in Section 5 are some aspects of containment for underground plants. There it is suggested that the need for large separations between the plant and population centers may be significantly reduced, or perhaps eliminated. Section 6 contains a brief discussion of operational considerations for underground plants. The costs associated with excavation and lining of the underground galleries have been estimated in Section 7. These estimates include an assessment of variations implied by different seismic loading assumptions and differences in geologic media. It is shown that these costs are a small percentage of the total cost of comparable surface plants. Finally, the parameters characterizing an acceptable underground site are discussed in Section 8. Material is also included in the appendices pertaining to foreign underground plants, span limits of underground excavations, potential siting areas for underground plants in the State of California, pertinent data from the Underground Nuclear Test Program, and other supporting technical discussions.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Technical Report)
Additional Information:© 1972 by California Institute of Technology. This report documents the results of work on underground nuclear power plant siting performed between 23 September 1971 and 28 March 1972 by the San Bernardino Operations of The Aerospace Corporation. This nine-month effort was jointly sponsored by The Aerospace Corporation and the Environmental Quality Laboratory (EQL) of the California Institute of Technology. The EQL support has been provided through California Institute of Technology Purchase Order No. 28-80030-B from Grant No. GI-29726 from the National Science Foundation, Research Applied to National Needs (RANN). These joint studies are continuing, including the possibility of undergrounding the reactor alone, the safety and containment possibilities of undergrounding, and the seismic implications. This work is part of a continuing investigation by the EQL Task Force on Novel Methods of Siting Nuclear Power Plants, including underground siting, off-shore floating plants, and inland siting. This study of new technological alternatives is itself part of a broader investigation of methods of providing society with a much wider range of alternatives than it now has to cope with the energy demand-supply-environment dilemma.
Group:Environmental Quality Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Series Name:Environmental Quality Laboratory Report
Issue or Number:6
Record Number:CaltechEQL:EQL-R-6
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Usage Policy:You are granted permission for individual, educational, research and non-commercial reproduction, distribution, display and performance of this work in any format.
ID Code:25757
Deposited By: Imported from CaltechEQL
Deposited On:09 Dec 2009
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 03:08

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