Nuclear Technology – Future of Commercial Maritime Propulsion?

Considering the scrutiny that the current commercial fuel is getting because of it’s ill effects to the environment, it is likely that interest in nuclear propulsion at sea will increase again. Let us go through certain points to decide whether or not nuclear technology will be considered as a mainstream fuel option.

nuclear technology

Necessity of Nuclear Technology in the Maritime Sector

In the current scenario of extreme fuel shortages, nuclear ships could be the answer to what to watch out for. At present, there are very few ships based on nuclear power for ship propulsion that have been used experimentally. The merchant cargo ship American Savannah (1962-1972) and the German NA Otto Hahn (1968-1972), both nuclear-powered icebreakers, were used for a short time. However, nuclear-dependent ship propulsion has been found in the armed forces and navy, and commercial and domestic nuclear ships are becoming increasingly common. There is speculation as to whether the use of ship propulsion systems based on nuclear energy is a key factor that makes it a good idea, no matter how you look at it.

How long can a nuclear powered ship stay at sea?

Two papers on commercial nuclear propulsion were published in 2014 by Lloyds Register and other members of the consortium concluded that the technology is feasible, but that further maturity of nuclear technology, development and harmonization of the regulatory framework are necessary before it is commercially viable. A small fast neutron reactor with lead-bismuth-eutectic cooling could be operated for ten years without refueling and would be in operation for the last 25 years of the ship’s operational life.

Why Nuclear Technology a good idea ?

  • The design of the naval reactor uses boron as a combustible neutron poison, and the fuel alloy (15 percent zirconium, 85 percent uranium) is enriched to a level where 93 percent is combustible without poisoning. Its high enrichment enables a long nuclear life and offers sufficient responsiveness to overcome xenon poisoning, even if the reactor is already dead by that time. Axial direction doping ensures a longer core life, while radial doping ensures a more even distribution of power and fuel consumption.
  • Nuclear reactors operate with high reliability and maintain a constant temperature, thus promoting access to thermal energy storage. Access to heat storage improves the operation of small nuclear reactors, which can be adapted for mobile operation for maritime propulsion. The on-board thermal fusion technology generates steam that drives the engines and provides ships with a range of several hundred miles.

Maritime routes & Nuclear Technology

  • International trans-oceanic shipping, including the operation of nuclear reactors, would be limited to routes where the Navy could ensure the safety of ships against piracy. For security reasons, nuclear-powered merchant ships have been banned from sailing to the southern Red Sea region, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by pirates and other terrorist groups. International ocean-going vessels using heat storage would connect with large tugs to push and steer large barges.
  • As larger vessels require more than 80 MW of main engines, ships with 345 MW of electric-powered nuclear reactors could operate, which they would provide. The nuclear-powered Trans-Pacific Merchant Ships would likely include a large number of large cargo ships, such as the U.S.N.C.L.E. and the United States Naval Shipbuilding Company (USNSC).

Conclusion

For the shipping industry, nuclear power could meet the propulsion and other energy needs of its fleet of large ships. The potential savings of 5 billion barrels of oil per year would be a good step towards reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. The shipping industry could adopt the protocols and procedures of the nuclear navy if they work. Several companies are involved in the research and development of small nuclear power plants capable of powering a single ship or small convoy of ships. The development of thermal energy storage technologies compatible with nuclear power will improve the long-term operation and cost competitiveness of this technology.

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