Could nuclear powered ships help the industry meet the 2050 emissions target?

Nuclear power as a fuel for ships is a completely zero-emission solution – it does not emit any SOx, NOx, CO2 or particulates. The technology is also millions of times more power-dense than fossil fuels and alternative fuel options that are currently being considered like methanol, ammonia and hydrogen. In terms of meeting the IMO’s 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction ambition, it’s the only proven solution available today, capable of replacing fossil fuels in all marine applications.

The technology is far from new – the first nuclear power plant became operational in 1955 with the US Navy. Since then, there has been around 700 reactors operational at sea, and currently there are about 100. This equates to thousands of operating years’ experience. The technology is not just limited to navies – there have also been civil marine applications. Russia has been operating nuclear merchant ships for many years. At present this includes nuclear-powered icebreakers with some of these vessels becoming passenger ships in the summer, cruising to the arctic circle. Therefore, it could be argued that on the fringes of the cruise industry there are already nuclear-powered ships operating.

Nuclear power could be a particularly attractive option for the ferry industry, not only due to zero emissions, but also as it removes the need to bunker fuel when embarking/disembarking passengers, which becomes more of a challenge with new fuels. Any future requirements to use shoreside power to limit emissions would be negated by nuclear power. It would even be possible to supply power from the vessel to shoreside as an additional source of revenue. Nuclear is currently excluded from the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) meaning that there are no constraints in place for ships operating using the technology.

Public perception and acceptance are significant barriers in accepting this technology but are the risks real or perceived? Improved technological development over the years has ensured that fail safe mechanisms are built into reactor designs to negate concerns of radiation leakage in the event of failure. Mutual acceptance across nations for regulatory implementation will have to be in place for adoption to increase.

LR has over 60 years’ experience in providing quality assurance to global land-based nuclear power operators. More recently, LR have been supporting a project in China to develop new Floating Nuclear Power Plants. Our expertise is grounded through our Marine & Offshore services together with our other business streams, Offshore and Energy and Business Assurance & Inspection Services.

In 1966 LR issued ‘Provisional Rules for the Classification of Nuclear Ships’ but these were since withdrawn – however, in 2010, following interest in the technology from several clients, we developed a framework of principles to be considered when exploring the use of nuclear. Through this goal-based approach LR can help our clients assure the design, construction and operation of nuclear-powered ships.

Source: Lloyd’s Register

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