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Dutch study probes prospect of nuclear-propelled vessels

Australian mining giant BHP is exploring the prospect of onboard nuclear propulsion as a clean alternative energy to power commercial marine vessels on which it relies as a major bulk shipping customer.

BHP recently hired Dutch nuclear energy consultancy ULC-Energy to research several nuclear technologies that could be used to fuel merchant shipping.

The study compared key characteristics of several different civil reactor designs against the requirements for possible use in commercial maritime shipping. It evaluated a range of operational, regulatory, and commercial challenges, such as port access, licensing and vessel classification, capital costs, and crew training and certification.

“Decarbonising the shipping industry is a formidable challenge in the pursuit of more sustainable transportation,” ULC-Energy noted.

“Some of the methods employed to date have focused on energy efficiency by using larger ships, improved hull designs, and streamlined operations. In addition, parts of the maritime industry have explored the adoption of alternative fuels such as LNG, methanol, and ammonia.”

A resulting white paper from the nuclear study deals with issues regarding the potential use of nuclear energy that range from political and regulatory/legal requirements to commercial matters that would need to be considered.

Speed, near-unlimited range, reliability and near-zero GHG emissions are among the benefits of using nuclear propulsion in ships.

However, the researchers noted the known changes that would have to take place before nuclear energy could be rolled out as an alternative fuel.

The deployment of full-scale nuclear propulsion in merchant shipping would require a raft of new regulations to be passed as well as operational changes within the maritime sector. There are also several technical problems that would need to be resolved.

“It’s not straightforward or easy – and it will require a range of stakeholders to cooperate to make civil nuclear marine solutions possible,” said Dirk Rabelink, CEO of ULC-Energy.

The shipping industry consumes about 350 million tonnes of fossil fuel annually and accounts for about 3% of total worldwide carbon emissions. The International Maritime Organization in July 2023 approved new targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, aiming to reach net-zero emissions by, or around, 2050.

Source: Freight News