Nuclear Power for ocean going ships: green energy alternative

https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/maritime-industry-explores-nuclear-power-ships-technology-opens-up-2023-09-19/

The ocean shipping industry is under pressure to reduce emissions from their ships fueled with heavy diesel fuel. Methanol, ammonia, maybe hydrogen are possible alternatives.

Article points out that the US Navy has nuclear powered ships and submarines with a good safety record. Could nuclear work for merchant ships?

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The US operated the NS Savannah from 1962 until 1972.

I might be biased, but the Savannah was the prettiest cargo ship I have seen (unfortunately, only in pictures).

Russia has also operated nuclear powered merchent ships. Presently, they have a fleet of nuclear powered ice breakers in the Arctic, which are used to keep the sea lanes open for the northern passage between Europe and Asia.

  • Pete
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Companies from the United Kingdom and South Korea will team up to develop nuclear powered cargo ships.

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South Korea has a large shipbuilding industry, as well as a significant nuclear power industry. The Koreans recently built four large land-based nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates.

  • Pete
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NS Savannah

DB2

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Nuclear powered ships have never been economic solutions for shipping. The old truth that everything nuclear costs much more than alternatives. Will these UK and SK companies find the magic solution to the age old problem?

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But if diesel fuel is no longer allowed, how will nuclear rank? The most likely alternatives are ammonia or hydrogen. None will be cost effective compared to diesel fuel.

For things like shipping and air travel there is no good alternative to fossil fuels. All of the alternatives have serious problems starting with they are way too expensive and get worse from there.

If this headline were from 1995 we might have had a shot.

Over and over we face the same choices. Are we serious about green energy and dealing with global warming? Or would we rather deal with the damage from storms, fires, failing crops, rising seawater? The bill arrives as rising cost of insurance.

We don’t have a choice. We get one or the other or someplace in the middle. Some of both.

Are we making good choices? Which price do we want to pay?

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Well now, there’s enough material there for at least a couple of books.

Because of the immensity of the change (politically, socially, economically) it is clear that the process will be long and slow. Out of necessity “Both” is the answer.

A thought experiment: If you had $100 billion to spend would you direct it to building a high-speed rail line from San Franciso to Los Angeles or to building a storm protection system in the New York/New Jersey bight?

Spending money on adaptation is both necessary and cost effective, especially on projects that have multiple benefits. For example, Imperial Beach is a low-lying community south of San Diego. Concern about sea level rise could have them pass zoning laws to prohibit new building within 100 meters of the coast. They could build a sea wall, one that is low and wide to keep costs down. It could double as a bike/walk path and if necessary down the decades be built up higher.

There is a whole side discussion on whether money spent on mitigation (say, a solar plant in Namibia) would have more positive benefits spent on something like healthcare in Namibia.

DB2

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We’ll be doing both guaranteed. Yours is similar to Bjorn Lomborg’s arguments. Fixing the consequences of the problem is cheaper than the costs of avoiding the problem in the first place.

I’m skeptical that’s true, but even if it were, it is a moot argument. The people willing to raise their taxes to build a high speed rail from San Francisco to LA aren’t willing to to raise their taxes to build a storm protection system in New York. People might be willing to pay a bit extra on their utility bill to promote solar, but there is no way a utility will raise prices to support health care in Namibia. It is different pots of money.

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Here is a piece from IEEE Spectrum. This seems to be a fairly balanced article.

A few snippets…
Vard Group is part of NuProShip, a consortium of the Norwegian maritime authority, universities, shipbuilders, and shipping companies that aims to develop a Generation IV reactor for marine vessels. The group has shortlisted three designs and plan to have picked one by the end of 2024.

Also later this year, the Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri and Newcleo expect to wrap up a feasibility study to assess the practicality of deploying a 30-megawatt reactor on marine vessels. Japanese shipping giant Imabari Shipbuilding, along with a dozen other companies, has invested US $80 million in the British startup Core Power to develop a floating nuclear power plant using SMR technology that could also one day be used in ships.

In South Korea, nine organizations, including shipping companies and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, plan to develop and demonstrate large ships powered by SMRs.

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This article also discusses some of the drawbacks of ammonia fuel.

Ammonia, meanwhile, has half the energy density of diesel fuel, so ships would need twice as much of it. Ammonia is now made using an energy-intensive process, and no vessels are yet capable of using it. Producing enough renewable, carbon-free ammonia for shipping—about 600 million tonnes a year—using electrolyzers that split water molecules to produce hydrogen, would use 12 megawatt-hours per tonne of ammonia. To make 600 million tonnes of it would require almost three times the power production capacity of the entire European Union in 2022, according to Emblemsvåg. “So we can make engines that run on ammonia, but there won’t be enough ammonia.”

  • Pete
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Re: no vessels now can use ammonia.

I believe demonstration ships have been built to explore feasibility. According to recent reports.

The Savannah was never a serious cargo ship with its sleek lines. Cargo ships look like container ships, oil tankers, bulk carriers, roll-on/roll-off ships, and LNG ships.

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