DNV: Nuclear power might offer a pathway to reach IMO GHG targets

A fusion-powered container vessel offers potential for lower transport cost, faster service, and zero emissions to air, DNV said in its Technology Progress Report on key energy systems technologies aimed at meeting global decarbonization targets.

DNV logo; Image by Offshore Energy

One of those technologies includes nuclear power, which, according to DNV, might offer an additional pathway for reaching IMO GHG targets for shipping, while removing business uncertainty due to fuel cost volatility.

Nuclear power could be an effective decarbonization choice for larger ships in the world fleet such as container ships, bulk carriers, and possibly tankers and cruise ships.

As explained, a relatively small number of nuclear vessels would make a significant impact on global emissions., having in mind that the largest 1,000 ships account for about 10% of global shipping emissions, and about 0.3% of global emissions.

It would also scale well with minimal cost so ship speed can be higher (e.g., 30-35 knots) leading to reduced transit times and increased transport capacity.

“With the increased transport capacity, a nuclear-powered ship could also handle a larger portion of the world’s shipping demand, and as such have a positive environmental impact beyond that of the individual ship itself,” DNV said in the report.

The report provides an example of a fusion-powered container vessel (FPCV) concept based on the layout of a conventional 20,000 TEU vessel.

The concept is being studied in partnership with ABB, General Fusion, JMU and NYK.

Under the design concept, the fusion engine would be placed amidships, below and forward of the deckhouse, in a sealed space. A steam plant comprising heat exchangers, steam turbines and generators would be located adjacent to the fusion engine room.

The nominal TEU capacity is reduced to 19,338 TEU compared to the reference ship due to a larger engine room. Six electric motors in the aft engine room drive twin propellers, and the auxiliary power plant is dimensioned to facilitate a cold start-up of the fusion system and is also arranged below the deckhouse.

The principal components of the proposed fusion power plant are the fusion engine, the fuel supply system including the plasma injector, the steam loop for the fusion engine pistons and the liquid metal loop connecting to the heat exchangers.

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Based on the economic analysis conducted by DNV using three different fuel price scenarios, an FPCV offers lower cumulated costs than the conventional cases after 5 years, eventually saving about $ 1bn after 15 years. The high/low fuel price scenarios change breakeven to 3/10 years, respectively.

The analysis involved trade routes between East Asia and Europe with fewer port calls, including round Cape of Good Hope, using a speed of 28 knots.

Three fuel price scenarios were established for the reference case in the period 2031 to 2050, with a 1% annual increase. The low fuel price corresponds to a recent long-term crude oil price forecast by BP, while the high fuel price would be closer to the price of future alternative fuels.

The cost-benefit analysis included capital costs (hull, outfitting, fusion plant, steam plant, electrical systems and motors) and operational costs (fuel, CO2 , Suez Canal fees, maintenance, crew) as well as compensation for differences in TEU capacity and speed-induced inventory costs.


According to a hazard identification analysis, the highest risks to human life and property in the case of an FPCV came from i) water ingress after a collision with liquid metal leaking to create a steam explosion, and ii) leakage of steam due to equipment failure.

The highest commercial risk identified related to large volume of cooling water discharge in port which might not be acceptable.

Nuclear proliferation risk is another concern for nuclear
powered vessels, however, there are hints that several of the novel designs can potentially operate using unenriched uranium or thorium, or even spent nuclear fuel which is in storage today.

“The upside of using unenriched fuels is that enrichment facilities, which can make weapons grade uranium, can be avoided altogether. As such, nuclear technology on deep sea vessels should be chosen and developed to rely as little as possible on enriched fuels, and to produce the smallest possible amounts of weapons material in operation,” the report notes.

DNV believes that a Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) using molten salt reactor technology holds promise for reducing the emissions of the global shipping fleet.

“Additional and ongoing analysis will clearly be needed as the technology readiness level of modular nuclear technologies advances and as the cost of other zero emission solutions becomes clearer,” DNV added.

“Moreover, several novel reactor technologies need first to be
developed and operated onshore before sufficient experience is available to guide the public perception, risk, and cost associated with taking shipping nuclear.”

Historically, land-based nuclear power is among the safest and arguably cleanest ways of producing power, even though public perception of this track record might not reflect this. Hence, social acceptance of the technology could be one of the biggest obstacles to greater uptake in the sector.

DNV’s report highlights 10 key energy transition technologies that are expected to develop, compete, and interact over the next five years if global economies are to meet emissions reduction targets.

They include growing electricity from renewables such as solar, floating wind, waste to fuel and feedstock, utilization of pipelines for low carbon gases, meshed HVDC grids, and new battery technologies.

Energy use considers the production of green hydrogen and scaling of carbon capture systems to effectively decarbonize manufacturing as well as energy production. It also looks at novel shipping technologies and the continued rise of electric vehicles and their integration with power grids.

 “The world needs to transition faster to a deeply decarbonized energy system, reducing emissions by around 8% each year to ensure an energy future compliant with the 1.5-degree ambition set under the Paris Agreement,” Remi Eriksen, Group President and CEO of DNV says.

“The technologies that have the potential to decarbonize the world’s energy system are well known. The challenge lies in navigating how and when to implement these technologies, which are at different stages of maturity, and in managing how they interact and rely on one another. Understanding this will enable industry, governments, and those financing the transition to effectively prioritize their efforts, to achieve the emissions reductions required this year, next year, and every year through to mid-century.”