American Bureau of Shipping exploring nuclear propulsion

A study commissioned by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is exploring the potential of advanced nuclear reactor technology for commercial marine propulsion. 

ABS commissioned Herbert Engineering Corporation (HEC) to carry out a study designed to help the shipping industry better understand the feasibility and safety implications of nuclear propulsion and to support future development projects.

The study – which involved input from “leading nuclear reactor developers” – modelled the impact of nuclear propulsion on the design, operation and emissions of a container vessel and a Suezmax tanker.

According to the study, the use of two, lead-cooled, 30 MW fast reactors on the container carrier would likely increase cargo capacity and operational speed, while eliminating the need for refuelling during its entire 25-year lifespan. 

On the Suezmax tanker, the study found the addition of four, 5 MW, 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.

“Our findings from this latest cutting-edge research underscore why the industry cannot afford to ignore the vast potential offered by nuclear propulsion both in terms of emissions reduction and operational efficiency,” said ABS chairman and CEO Christopher Wiernicki. 

“A net-zero world is more easily realised through nuclear propulsion, and we are putting in place the foundations for that future today. Turning this into a practical reality will require significant public sector support and ABS is well placed to bring governments and industry together.

“Advanced or small modular reactors address many of the issues traditionally associated with nuclear for commercial maritime use, with enhanced safety and efficiency, reduced cost and waste and proliferation prevention. Nevertheless, many questions need to be answered and it is critical that industry evaluate these technologies with a laser focus on safety.”

HEC Senior Principal Naval Architect Robert Tagg added: “This study is helping us to understand in detail both the potential of modern reactor technology and how this will affect the design and operation of future vessels.”

The US 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.