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ABS Study Explores Potential of Commercial Nuclear Propulsion

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

July 24, 2023

Concept design showing the arrangement of nuclear reactor and supporting equipment. (Image: ABS)

Concept design showing the arrangement of nuclear reactor and supporting equipment. (Image: ABS)

New research explores how nuclear propulsion could transform the design, operation and emissions output of vessels in the commercial maritime industry.

Classification society ABS said it commissioned Herbert Engineering Corp. (HEC) to carry out the study to examine the potential of advanced modern reactor technology for commercial marine propulsion. The study is designed to help 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, modeled the impact of two, lead-cooled, 30MW fast reactors on a 14,000 TEU containership, finding it would likely increase cargo capacity and operational speed, while eliminating the need for refueling during its entire 25-year lifespan. On a 157,000 DWT Suezmax tanker, the study found the addition of four, 5MW, heat-pipe microreactors, while decreasing cargo capacity, would raise operational speeds and only require refueling 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. A net-zero world is more easily realized 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,” said Christopher J. Wiernicki, ABS Chairman and CEO. “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 is pleased to be able to support ABS and explore the practical application of nuclear power on board. 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,” said Robert Tagg, Senior Principal Naval Architect at HEC.

ABS notes it is already playing a role in supporting the development of nuclear propulsion for commercial vessels. The U.S. 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.