Jiangnan Shipyard unveils design for the ‘world’s largest’ nuclear-powered containership

Image credit Jiangnan Shipyard

China’s Jiangnan Shipyard unveiled what has been described as ‘the world’s largest nuclear-powered container ship design’ during the Marintec China 2023 exhibition in Shanghai, boasting a capacity of 24,000 TEUs.

Image credit CSSC

The design uses Molten Salt Reactors, operating under high temperature and low-pressure conditions, mitigating the risk of a reactor meltdown from the outset.

Notably, in the event of a breach accident, the reactor can be swiftly halted to prevent further escalation, underscoring the commitment to safety standards in the development of this ultra-large nuclear-powered container ship, as disclosed by China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited, Jiangnan Shipyard’s parent.

In the event of a breach accident, rapid solidification at ambient temperature is ensured. Post-accident, beyond employing standard shutdown procedures, the fuel salt can be swiftly discharged from the reactor to effect prompt shutdown, averting the escalation of the incident. The power plant on this ship type is strategically positioned for safety, featuring a double-sided redundant design in the power system to fully guarantee its integrity. Additionally, it incorporates an emergency evacuation function from personnel gathering areas, the shipyard explained.

Furthermore, the power system layout has been described as more compact when compared to traditional ship types, offering additional box spaces. The conventional chimney engine room shed is eliminated, replaced by a first-cabin solution. The nuclear power cabin is centrally located, enhancing comfort and safety with the gained box space.

The entire ship adopts an all-electric solution, with a propulsion system featuring dual motors, dual shaft propellers, and dual rudders for heightened installed power, speed, and maneuverability. The primary power source is a supercritical carbon dioxide generator set, and the nuclear power system employs a compact modular design, ensuring high efficiency and true ‘net-zero’ emissions. Compared to low-sulfur oil and various alternative energy solutions, this ship type offers a shorter length, increased container spaces, and enhanced space and energy utilization.

The design has secured approval in principle from the DNV classification society, CSSC added.

Image credit DNV

Leveraging the potential of clean nuclear energy, the unveiled design incorporates a fourth-generation molten salt reactor technology, widely regarded as highly advanced on a global scale.

The ultra-large nuclear container ship is designed to achieve “zero emissions” during the ship’s operating cycle, the shipyard said.

Nuclear propulsion is gaining growing attention within the maritime industry as part of the pursuit of near-zero emission vessels in line with the ever-stringent 2050 decarbonization ambitions.

This development reflects a broader trend in the industry, where multiple shipyards in South Korea are actively exploring the potential of nuclear power for both propulsion and the production of alternative fuels.

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The adoption of nuclear propulsion presents a promising avenue for the industry, as it not only aligns with the imperative of near-zero emissions but also addresses critical concerns related to fuel prices and availability.

By eliminating the need for frequent refueling, nuclear-powered ships become less reliant on the fluctuations in fuel prices and the availability of low carbon and zero-carbon fuels. This not only contributes to economic stability for shipping companies but also enhances the overall sustainability of maritime transportation.

However, amidst the promising strides in adopting nuclear propulsion for maritime transportation, it is essential to acknowledge that public acceptance regarding safety remains a critical concern.