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Nuclear power poses ‘vast potential’ for shipping says ABS

28 July 2023
Concept design showing the arrangement of nuclear reactor and supporting equipment. Credit: ABS

Shipping must not ignore the “vast potential” nuclear power poses for emissions reductions and operational efficiencies, according to ABS CEO and Chairman Christopher J. Wiernicki. 

His comments follow the announcement of findings from what ABS has dubbed a “groundbreaking study” on the potential of advanced modern reactor technology for commercial marine propulsion.

ABS commissioned Herbert Engineering Corp (HEC) to model the impact of nuclear propulsion on the design, operation and emissions of a 14k TEU container vessel and a 157k DWT Suezmax tanker.  

The study, which involved input from leading nuclear reactor developers, modelled the impact of two, lead-cooled, 30MW fast reactors on the container carrier, finding it would likely increase cargo capacity and operational speed, while eliminating the need for refuelling during its entire 25-year lifespan. On the Suezmax vessel, the study found the addition of four, 5MW, heat-pipe microreactors, while decreasing cargo capacity, would raise operational speeds and only require refuelling once during its 25-year life. Both concept vessels would emit zero CO2.

Despite the regulatory hurdles that will need to be resolved before mass adoption of the technology on board, Wiernicki said the findings “underscore why the industry cannot afford to ignore the vast potential offered by nuclear propulsion both in terms of emissions reduction and operational efficiency”. 

He noted that advanced or small modular reactors address “many of the issues” that have been typically associated with nuclear power for maritime use, namely safety, efficiency, cost, and waste. “Nevertheless, many questions need to be answered and it’s critical that industry evaluate these technologies with a laser focus on safety,” he concluded. 

ABS will continue to focus on the development of nuclear propulsion for shipping. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded ABS a contract to research barriers to the adoption of advanced nuclear propulsion on commercial vessels. The DOE has also contracted ABS to support research into thermal-electric integration of a nuclear propulsion system on a commercial vessel being carried out by the University of Texas.