Nuclear powered ships becoming feasible?

https://cleantechnica.com/2017/01/28/now-time-nuclear-cargo-shipping/

An article on revisiting nuclear powered ships.

Why Now Is The Time For Nuclear Cargo Shipping
January 28th, 2017 by Susan Kraemer

On land, nuclear powered electricity is no longer a competitive US option in a carbon-constrained future when solar is already at 3 cents per kilowatt-hour and wind is even less.

Nuclear takes decades to permit, driving up costs, it routinely has cost overruns once it is in construction, and the whole time it faces opposition from residents nearby. These factors all drive up costs.

Plus, as with any thermal power plant, it takes a lot of material and labor to construct, compared to PV in particular, which is pretty much just a matter of laying down a mass-produced product out in a field.

Actually, the Real Atomic Energy is PV

At the atomic level, electricity is only generated when electrons move, which is what an electric current is. And there’s two ways to make electrons move. There’s the hard way, which we’ve done for over a century, and the easy way. Coal, gas, geothermal, hydroelectric, and nuclear all must rotate large, complex and heavy mechanical systems within a magnetic field to make electrons move.

Unlike all these thermal methods of creating electricity, which boil water to make steam to make huge machines revolve, a solar panel instead operates at the atomic level.

The sun emits photons of sunlight. Instead of a big rotating machine to move electrons, photons push electrons out of the way, so that when each one moves, a new electron takes its place.

Once a solar panel is manufactured with that magic inside, it is basically a simple object that can be mass-produced. And making and setting up any mass-produced object, as economies of scale kick in, causes a drop in cost, which is why solar is rapidly dropping in price.

By contrast, any thermal power plant is going to remain more expensive to build, and none more so than a nuclear power plant.

Where Nuclear Could Compete: Cargo Shipping
Of course, that is an issue only related to grid electricity. But we actually need carbon neutral energy for more than grid electricity. We need carbon-neutral transport too, and in one transport application, nuclear makes an ideal fit.

In cargo shipping, nuclear power could be the winner, according to a research paper, Considerations on the potential use of Nuclear Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology for merchant marine propulsion.

We have already been using small nuclear power plants on board more than 140 submarines and some icebreakers since the 1950s. These have been quietly plying the oceans for a good 65 years with no accidents.

But even more effective greenhouse gas reductions are possible with commercial cargo shipping simply because we have a lot more cargo ships than US military submarines. Cargo ships move over 90% of global trade on the high seas. These are now running on fossil fumes.

Not only do these emit 1.12 billion tonnes (British count) of CO2, according to CleanShipping.org‘s 2008 report, but they also add a layer of about 133,000 metric tons of black carbon each year to the atmosphere. When black carbon falls on snow it decreases its albedo, the reflectivity of snow, so it adds to climate destruction in both ways.

(And if you have ever been on a ship, you know that these nasty diesel oil fumes really stink, too!)

But the most typical fossil fuel is diesel. It is going to take some effort to displace diesel oil for cargo shipping, among them familiarity, expertise, easy access to spare parts, and a global distribution network of diesel oil, according to a Marine Study looking at various clean options for shipping.

Advantages

  1. Diesel engine technology is a well understood and reliable form of marine propulsion and auxiliary power generation technology.
  1. The training of engineers to operate diesel machinery is well known and facilities exist for the appropriate levels of education.
  1. Engine manufacturers have well established repair and spare part networks around the world.
  1. Diesel fuel in all grades has a worldwide distribution network and is easily obtainable.

All of these home team advantages would need to be overcome for nuclear to displace diesel oil.

How Big a Power Plant Would a Nuclear Ship Need?

The nuclear power stations used in submarines are physically very small: under six feet wide by 15 feet tall. And at between 10 and 40 megawatts (MW), they are also smaller in capacity than what would be needed for a cargo ship.

It takes about 150 MW to power a typical cargo ship, using diesel generators.

Of course, 150 MW is a much smaller capacity than a land-based nuclear plant at typically at least 1,000 MW (1 GW) or more. It would take only 10% of a land-based nuclear plant to move a cargo ship.

Submarines and ice breakers have long used these small nuclear power plants on board. According to World Nuclear (which just updated its website in January, as the new administration came in):

“They deliver a lot of power from a very small volume and run on highly-enriched uranium (actually a uranium-zirconium or uranium-aluminum alloy). They need refueling only once every ten years, due to long core lives. Newer cores are now capable of going 30-50 years between refueling.”

Why Now?

There will be zero support for the renewable solutions to climate ruin for the next four years. The Trump administration will incentivize either fossil energy or nuclear. Better that they focus on nuclear from a climate point of view, but a nuclear application that might make a difference.

Nuclear for land-based electricity no longer makes sense in the US. No amount of support is going to bring down those costs.

Even wind and solar’s more expensive cousins, offshore wind and dispatchable thermal solar, are already much cheaper than nuclear, and they have only begun generating at utility scale in the last few years, unlike nuclear electricity.

A lot of price reduction comes from scale.

On land, mass-produced small nuclear plants, where most modern nuclear innovation is, will never gain acceptance as small plants only make sense close to load. And load is where all the people are. And all the people distrust nuclear. So, land-based nuclear is out.

But with thousands of cargo ships now plying the seas, small nuclear could provide the mass market that could drive down manufacturing costs, and make nuclear cargo shipping cost effective compared to diesel-fueled shipping.

So the question is; what problems would we need to overcome, and how would we do that?

What do you guys think?

Obviously ships in general have as small a crew as possible. Floating around with nuclear material on board would probably increase at sea terror incidents as the cores could be used for a dirty bomb.

Commercial nuclear powered ships have been built in the past but with the except of the Sevmorput all others were laid up or converted to a more conventional power plant during their operational lives. Can it be done, yes, but whether or not it can be commercially viable is another question altogether. Fear is probably the one of the greatest obstacles when traveling to the various ports of call. Those ships that were built were subject to being banned from entering ports due to such fear. While non-polluting under normal operations the legacy cost after decommissioning can be quite expensive.

Just a few thoughts on the subject.

I think the NS Savanah proved that nuclear ships aren’t the way to go. Nuclear ice breakers, I think Russia has a few, might be ok, but otherwise just stick to conventional fuels. Maybe hybridize with solar once that becomes feasible.

[QUOTE=LI_Domer;194747]I think the NS Savanah proved that nuclear ships aren’t the way to go. Nuclear ice breakers, I think Russia has a few, might be ok, but otherwise just stick to conventional fuels. Maybe hybridize with solar once that becomes feasible.[/QUOTE]

Hydrogen Fuel cells is more likely: http://shipandbunker.com/news/features/fathom-spotlight/297814-the-dawn-of-hydrogen

[QUOTE=Tugboater203;194744]https://cleantechnica.com/2017/01/28/now-time-nuclear-cargo-shipping/

An article on revisiting nuclear powered ships.

What do you guys think?[/QUOTE]

I think the author didn’t do the slightest bit of research. There have been at least 61 reported (who knows how many have not been reported) incidents or accidents. Some of them have been pretty horrific.

Just imagine a fleet of FOC nuke ships manned by $100 a month villagers. The glow from the beaches of Alang would be visible from the space station.

http://www.nks.org/download/pdf/NKS-Pub/NKS-96-RAK-2TR-C3.pdf

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I am sitting right now a few miles from the NS Savanah, which by all information I have ever read was a wonderful ship that never even came close to being commercially viable. You can blame that on a half-a55ed combination of cruise and cargo ship for one thing, but the expense to build a nuclear power plant is huge and the cost to man it and guard it would be very high as well in 2017. Do you think DHS would allow a foreign flag nuke ship to come into any US port while “engineers” from the Liberian Institute of Atomic Reactors and Lawn Mower Repair play with the reactor controls and the Isis Crewing Agency runs off with half the fuel to dump in the middle of town :eek:

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I remember seeing the nuclear licenses in the license rack every so often. I had a professor who sailed in her as 2/Eng’r a couple of tours. I was very interested in some first hand reflections on what it was NS Savanah couldn’t overcome. His take was:

  1. President Truman wanted America’s nuclear reputation to be softened to reflect peaceful uses for nuclear power. When the UN was established he proposed that all members combine their efforts on a project. The US didn’t want the Russians to gain our knowledge from our subs. The Russians didn’t want the US to know how much they’d stolen from us so the plant they came up with, I understand, was a real Rube Goldberg special. The plant was never going to be right.

  2. The plans sat on a shelf for 6 years before construction was given the green light. So they had a lousy plant and old plans. A lot of new things went into shipbuilding in those 6 years. Savanah didn’t get any of them.

  3. No steamship company wanted to manage or run the ship. Finally MARAD made several companies take her for either one or two years. Then she went to the next company. It was so bad that the companies had to be threatened with loss of federal monies and contracts. That was a recipe for disaster. The ship got old real fast.

  4. Japan wouldn’t allow her in their waters so other pacific nations wouldn’t either just in case.

  5. The ship was built with beauty in mind. She is a nice looking ship. She couldn’t hold enough cargo to make any formula for profit work.

  6. The training, officer licensing, COI inspection for one ship drove the CG crazy. No one lined up for drydocking bids either. MARAD’s days in the sun during the war were in decline by the 60s Savanah was taking a bigger piece of the operating budget than they liked, although I understand the State Dept. helped out with her expenses for flag waving.

NS Savanah really didn’t do anything herself to contribute to her slow death. It sure would be nice to know for once that the hottest, best looking ship afloat was flying old glory. In today’s world you’d have to pitch the ship as a place to send the Guantanamo gang.

I had a few beers with a friend and (now retired) fellow marine surveyor over the weekend. He was 3rd Assistant on the SAVANNAH for a few years and talks of some of the various changes in operating companies. I also sailed with the son of one of the Chief Engineers, too; who also ended up becoming a very capable engineer. She was refueled in Galveston. . . I remember when Todd Shipyard closed. . .there were some mysterious dump trucks removing dirt from around the Nuclear Power Research building. . . . or so I was told. . . .

The first time I sailed by her I thought I was looking at a really large motor yacht. She looks nothing like a form follows function freighter or those ugly floating city blocks that pass for cruise ships now.
She really does have great lines :smiley:

[QUOTE=Charlie Noble;194761]
5. The ship was built with beauty in mind. She is a nice looking ship. She couldn’t hold enough cargo to make any formula for profit work.
[/QUOTE]

[QUOTE=Island_Sailor;194766]The first time I sailed by her I thought I was looking at a really large motor yacht. She looks nothing like a form follows function freighter or those ugly floating city blocks that pass for cruise ships now.
She really does have great lines :D[/QUOTE]

Agreed. I have always thought that the lines of the SAVANNAH were similar to those States Lines Colorado Class ships. I believe that they are both Sharp designs.

Not unlike the museum ship “Cap San Diego” in Hamburg: http://www.ssmaritime.com/Cap-San-Diego-museum.htm
Only this one is not nuclear powered.

The Savannah was never intended to be a commercial success, but an ambassador of American maritime might and supremacy: https://www.flexport.com/blog/nuclear-powered-cargo-ships/

She failed to live up to her billing. Although technically capable she met resistance in many ports of the world.

Being able to sail for years without refueling was one of the “selling points”, but this was offset by the need to dispose of radioactive water at frequent intervals. Facilities to receive such waste was and is limited and expensive.

Modern Mini-reactors may have overcome many of the early problems, but not the public scepticisme to anything nuclear.

[QUOTE=Steamer;194753]I think the author didn’t do the slightest bit of research. There have been at least 61 reported (who knows how many have not been reported) incidents or accidents. Some of them have been pretty horrific.

Just imagine a fleet of FOC nuke ships manned by $100 a month villagers. The glow from the beaches of Alang would be visible from the space station.

http://www.nks.org/download/pdf/NKS-Pub/NKS-96-RAK-2TR-C3.pdf[/QUOTE]

Are you serious? Do you actually BELIEVE that FOC (i.e. non-US flag?)ships are “manned by $100/mth. villagers”??

Why not? That’s a lot of pesos.

[QUOTE=Fraqrat;194789]Why not? That’s a lot of pesos.[/QUOTE]

Lots more Dongs.

Autonomous nuclear powered ships. What could possibly go wrong?

[QUOTE=Lee Shore;194791]Autonomous nuclear powered ships. What could possibly go wrong?[/QUOTE]

There you go. Nobody on board to screw up, or get nuked. Problem solved.
Of course $100 villagers is expendable, so if needed they can be sent on board to clean up the mess.

[QUOTE=ombugge;194792]There you go. Nobody on board to screw up, or get nuked. Problem solved.
Of course $100 villagers is expendable, so if needed they can be sent on board to clean up the mess.[/QUOTE]

Sometimes we have a problem that certified seafarers are not qualified for the work the do.
Sometimes seafarers make mistakes.
But an office-bound PhD is neither certified, nor qualified to be a seafarer and is just as likely to make a mistake.
Why can’t you convince people that unmanned ships are safer? Because it doesn’t seem at all likely to be true and no one has any evidence that it is true and the topic is wearing somewhat thin.

[QUOTE=Emrobu;194794]Sometimes we have a problem that certified seafarers are not qualified for the work the do. [/quote] Yes I agree, but this does not apply only to “$100 villagers”, or to people of specific nationalities.
Sometimes seafarers of all nationalities make mistakes.

But an office-bound PhD is neither certified, nor qualified to be a seafarer and is just as likely to make a mistake.
Why can’t you convince people that unmanned ships are safer? Because it doesn’t seem at all likely to be true and no one has any evidence that it is true and the topic is wearing somewhat thin.

I don’t see where the office-bound PhDs gets in the equation? Nobody say that such persons are qualified to be seafarers, certified or otherwise. They will not be the people manning the control rooms for future ships.

The notion that autonomous “whatever” is safer than when controlled by humans is not my idea, but widely held in many quarters. How it can be proven to be/not to be the case for autonomous ships without testing it I don’t know.

One point that is undisputed is that computers don’t get fatigued, or distracted by Facebook etc.
They can be hacked, or crash, though. The PhDs are working on it.

Here’s where the office-bound PhD’s come in. Its Lloyd’s prediction of how things will be.

[QUOTE=Emrobu;194813]Here’s where the office-bound PhD’s come in. Its Lloyd’s prediction of how things will be.

http://fairplay.ihs.com/article/19325/analysis-high-tech-ships-threaten-seafaring-skills[/QUOTE]

Yes more and different training will be required in the future, not only for seafarers but for all walks of life. Maybe not up to PhD standard for everyone, though.

I’m “lucky” since I’m at the “been there, done that” level and no longer in [U]need[/U] of learning.
Although when I stop learning something new every day will be the day I die. (I hope)