Step Forwards For Nuclear Powered Merchant Shipping

There is a growing interest in the potential of nuclear power for marine propulsion, as the shipping industry looks for ways to decarbonise. While the notion is still very much in the development phase, the UK has proved that it is committed to the idea by approving the enactment of the Merchant Shipping (Nuclear Ships) Regulations.  

A consultation into the matter took place during 2021, which established that there was an appetite within the industry for the nuclear propulsion of large vessels. It was also agreed that new technologies needed to be developed to ensure that such ships would be safe and fit for purpose, and safety standards needed to be updated and vigilantly maintained.

The consultation also established that the first UK flagged nuclear ship could be constructed within the next 10 years. It was also noted that there are likely to ships in active service using alternative fuels and power sources within the next decade. 

Mikal Boe, Founder and CEO of Core Power, a marine engineering company working on the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies for maritime use, told The Maritime Executive: “This is an important milestone in the regulatory progress for New Nuclear in Maritime.”

The publication also reports that the American Bureau of Shipping have recently been given a research contract by the US Department of Energy to study the potential for nuclear powered commercial shipping. The researchers will investigate the problems and challenges of adapting reactor technology for use in commercial shipping.

The UK consultation flagged up other benefits of nuclear propulsion besides the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions. These include the extra cargo capacity of nuclear-powered vessels, which will not need extensive engine rooms, funnels, or fuel tanks. 

This will mean that ships can move faster and carry more freight than standard vessels, and the efficiency of the world’s supply chain will be boosted.

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