Nuclear-powered ships have been around since the 1950s, but their use has been limited due to the lack of regulations and safety concerns. However, with the increasing attention paid to greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for international air and maritime transport, there is renewed interest in marine nuclear propulsion. This article will explore the regulations and benefits of nuclear-powered ships, as well as the legal framework for their use. The proposed regulation for nuclear-powered ships would introduce a specific program of nuclear testing prior to commissioning, as well as studies during the construction and testing phases to ensure quality and verify that a ship is built in accordance with the requirements. Periodic studies of the nuclear part of a ship would also be carried out during its operational life.
The United Kingdom has initiated a consultation on proposed regulations for nuclear-powered ships that would allow ships flying the United Kingdom flag to use the power source and international ships to visit its ports. The study indicated that certain routes and loads lent themselves well to the nuclear propulsion option, and that technological advances in the design and manufacture of the reactor had made the option more attractive. The legal framework for nuclear propulsion on ships evolved slowly and unevenly, with an even narrower path for nuclear merchant ships. If civil law statutory limitations are to be applied to nuclear damage, the right to compensation ceases if the claim is not filed within a target period of ten years. UNCLOS allowed coastal states to limit the right of innocent passage at sea for nuclear-powered ships and ships carrying nuclear substances or materials or other inherently dangerous or harmful substances or materials. Similarly, after spent fuel, radioactive products, or waste is transferred, the new owner is responsible for any nuclear damage.
Special attention should be paid to the designs of the reactor installations, taking into account the special conditions of service on board the ship under normal and exceptional navigational circumstances. Nuclear-powered ships have an excellent safety record and are much more environmentally friendly than conventional ships. They also have higher energy capacity than global nuclear power plants. Argentina's Bariloche Atomic Center is considering plans for a nuclear-powered TR-1700 submarine. If nuclear ships prove to be economically sustainable or productive, as well as environmentally friendly, they will be used in maritime transport. In conclusion, with proper regulations in place, nuclear-powered ships can provide a safe and efficient alternative to conventional ships.
They are also much more environmentally friendly and have higher energy capacity than global nuclear power plants. As such, they could be an important part of global maritime transport in the future.