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Report: KSOE reveals design of SMR-powered vessel

Korean shipbuilding giant, Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (KSOE), has unveiled the design of a small modular reactor (SMR)-powered ship, Business Korea reports.

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This marks the first time a Korean company has revealed such a detailed design concept for an SMR-powered vessel as nuclear power emerges as a credible zero-emission pathway for the shipping industry to decarbonize.

According to the report, the design involves a 240 megawatt (MW) SMR-powered ship, featuring four sets of 60-megawatt SMRs. The vessel would be a floating SMR facility on the sea, with the SMR placed on the bottom and a platform on top that produces carbon-free fuel such as hydrogen.

KSOE’s move into SMR technology is not its first foray into the field. In November 2022, the company invested US$30 million (approximately 42.5 billion won) in TerraPower, an SMR company founded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The project aims to build an SMR in the state of Wyoming in the United States by 2030.

Other South Korean shipbuilders are also working on the development of the technology. Samsung Heavy Industries, for example, has partnered up with KAERI on developing floating nuclear power plants based on molten salt reactors (MSR) technology.

Furthermore, the shipbuilder has completed the conceptual design for a CMSR Power barge, a floating facility for offshore nuclear power plants, and secured approval in principle from the U.S.-bassed ABS classification society.

Last month, Korean industry majors, led by shipping heavyweights HMM and Sinokor, joined forces on the development of nuclear-powered ships.

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The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by representatives of Gyeongju city, the Gyeongbuk Province, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the Korean Research Institute of Ship & Ocean Engineering (KRISO), the Korean Register, Wooyang Shipping Co, Sinokor, H-Line, and HMM.

Under the agreement, the partners aim to develop and demonstrate how small modular nuclear reactors can be used to propel ships. The project will also investigate the development of relevant marine system interface and propulsion technology as well as the production of hydrogen using MSR.

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Nuclear propulsion is gaining interest from the maritime world on the backdrop of growing challenges with respect to scaling up the production of green ammonia, e-methanol, and hydrogen which are believed to hold the key to the decarbonization of shipping.

Some of the key benefits the technology brings to the table are its independence from volatile fuel prices as well as the fact that running on nuclear would enable ships to abandon the slow steaming practice and boost vessel efficiency by sailing faster all while producing zero emissions.