Wed. Oct 4th, 2023
    The Potential of Nuclear Fuel for Commercial Ships

    The maritime industry is exploring the possibility of using nuclear fuel to power commercial ships, according to industry officials. While any viable solutions using nuclear fuel are still at least a decade away, this exploration is driven by the industry’s need to find cleaner fuel alternatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Currently, shipping is responsible for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions, and the industry faces pressure from investors and environmentalists to find more sustainable options. Alternative fuels like ammonia, methanol, and wind power are being considered, but nuclear energy presents a unique opportunity.

    Although nuclear fuel has been used to power military submarines and icebreakers, its use in commercial ships has been limited due to cost and concerns from insurers about risks and safety. However, recent advancements in technology and the development of small, mass-produced reactors are making nuclear-powered commercial ships a more viable option.

    Italy-based shipbuilder Fincantieri is closely monitoring the progress of small modular nuclear reactors and believes they could significantly contribute to decarbonizing ships. Fincantieri primarily builds cruise liners, naval ships, and specialized vessels, so adopting nuclear fuel technology would align with their core business.

    Leading ship certification company RINA is also involved in a feasibility study alongside Fincantieri and a nuclear technology company to assess the potential use of nuclear fuel in ships. Ugo Salerno, RINA’s CEO, mentioned that container ships, which require significant power, could be suitable for nuclear fuel.

    However, there are several challenges that need to be addressed before nuclear fuel can be used on commercial ships. These include fitting small reactors onto ships, addressing potential exposure to radiation, ensuring adequate safeguards during vessel movement, and managing ownership and security concerns at sea.

    CORE POWER, a UK-based company, is separately working on developing an advanced molten salt nuclear reactor using liquid fuel instead of solid fuel. This alternative design eliminates the risk of a loss of coolant accident, which is a common failure in conventional nuclear reactors.

    Although there are still obstacles to overcome, the maritime industry is cautiously optimistic about the potential of nuclear fuel for commercial ships. Public opinion and risk assessments are crucial factors to consider, but the enhanced technological capabilities and the need for a clean, green transition may drive further exploration and eventual adoption of nuclear-powered ships.

    – Reuters Article: “Maritime industry explores use of nuclear fuel for ships”
    – International Chamber of Shipping survey
    – Fincantieri spokesperson
    – RINA CEO Ugo Salerno
    – CORE POWER CEO Mikal Boe