Nuclear propulsion brings emissions-free, longer-lived ships into play

The rise of small modular reactors (SMRs) points to a step change for nuclear applications in shipping if regulatory hurdles can be overcome, classification society Lloyd’s Register (LR) said in a new report.

Courtesy of LR

Nuclear power could transform the maritime industry with emissions-free shipping, whilst extending the life cycle of vessels and removing the uncertainty of fuel and refuelling infrastructure development but regulation and safety considerations must be addressed for its widespread commercial adoption, according to the “Fuel for Thought: Nuclear report”.

The report assesses the opportunity presented by nuclear for commercial maritime given its proven track record in naval applications, with the study pointing to the role of new SMRs in bringing to market suitable low-maintenance reactors to meet the propulsion and energy requirements of commercial ships.

As explained, the commercial relationships between shipowners and energy producers will be altered as power is likely to be leased from reactor owners, separating the shipowner from the complexities of licensing and operating nuclear technology. SMRs are said to represent ‘a leap forward’ in reactor design, emphasizing safety, efficiency, and modularity for streamlined production.

As SMR technology matures and regulatory clarity increases, ship designs optimized for nuclear propulsion will emerge, ushering in a new era of efficient and environmentally friendly vessels.

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The report outlines the vital importance of adopting stringent safety protocols to prioritize the protection of seafarers and the environment. It suggests that for novel designs and nuclear technology in the short-term, LR’s Risk Based Certification (RBC) could provide an approach for first movers to certify their projects by demonstrating an equivalent level of safety to that achieved with conventional oil-fueled systems.

According to Fuel for Thought: Nuclear, technology readiness for nuclear is improving, as per the most recent update of the LR Maritime Decarbonisation Hub’s Zero Carbon Fuel Monitor with pressurized water reactors (PWR), micro reactors and molten salt reactors (MSR) emerging as some of the most promising technologies for maritime applications.

However, community readiness levels (CRL), which are affected by the public’s perception of nuclear power and investment readiness levels (IRL) remain low due to the uncertainties around the wider uptake of nuclear technology in commercial shipping.

“Fuel for Thought: Nuclear represents one of the first easily accessible overviews on the use of nuclear power in shipping, combining information from a wide range of sources into one report tailored for commercial shipping and the wider maritime value chain. Whilst its use in commercial shipping has been limited, by overcoming negative perceptions and a lack of investment levels, nuclear propulsion could provide immense value for the maritime sector in its decarbonisation journey, allowing for emissions free vessels with longer life cycles which require minimal refuelling infrastructure, or in best case scenarios limit the need entirely,” Mark Tipping, Power to X director, LR, commented.

In related news, Nuclear Energy Maritime Organization (NEMO), a recently founded organization focusing on the practical application of new nuclear solutions in the maritime industry, welcomed three new members since July 1.

OEGS Technology, Global Nuclear Security Partners, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman became full members of NEMO, which continues to broaden and strengthen collaborative efforts in the maritime nuclear sector.

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