Why aren't container ships nuclear powered?

The civil nuclear industry was not prepared to support the ship. In addition to fuel economy, nuclear-powered ships go approximately 50% faster than oil ships of the same size. For the shipping industry, the increase in the number of operations per year and the increase in profits seem to more than offset the increased operating costs of nuclear energy, according to an analysis by researchers at Penn State. Nuclear marine propulsion is the propulsion of a ship or submarine with heat provided by a nuclear reactor.

The power plant heats the water to produce steam for a turbine that is used to turn the ship's propeller through a gearbox or through an electric generator and engine. Nuclear propulsion is mainly used in naval warships, such as nuclear submarines and supercarriers. A small number of experimental civilian nuclear craft have been built. I'm not going to talk about any of those things.

I'll stick to something we all understand: the crew. Nuclear-powered ships are a good idea for two reasons. We all know that they don't emit greenhouse gases, they don't depend on the sun or the wind, they can go years without refueling and they can be of great power, that is, the other reason is that they will do more than anything else to improve the status, pay and conditions of seafarers. Yes, although the theft of a container ship has not yet been a thing, I imagine a scenario in which a nuclear ship is in the port of Los Angeles and is taken to be used as a dirty bomb.

It's not just about politics, but about rules that teach how to prevent nuclear units from being sold as scrap. A marine nuclear propulsion plant must be designed to be highly reliable and self-sufficient, and to require minimal maintenance and repairs, which could have to be performed thousands of miles from its home port. It's part of the financial engineering that nuclear-powered ships will entail, which save perhaps half the lifetime cost of a thirty-year diesel installation, but require the entire fuel bill to be paid in advance. Unless something happens that brings that number to zero, I have a hard time imagining that the shipping industry is interested in switching to nuclear power.

Nuclear-powered ships would not be for any rag trader who does vagabond freight, but only for the largest companies, MOL, OOCL, Maersk, which have ships twice the size of Nimitz that go on fixed routes and schedules where any delay generates costs that would exhaust the budget of a small country. All its growth in renewable energy is fully offset by the shutdown of nuclear power plants, and net CO2 emissions even increased slightly because of that. Some small modular reactors (SMR) are similar to marine propulsion reactors in terms of capacity and some design considerations, and therefore marine nuclear propulsion (whether civil or military) is sometimes proposed as an additional niche market for SMRs. The technical problems that come with nuclear power at sea are not easy for an amateur, such as a general manager, to understand, and unless he can talk about why Hyman Rickover didn't want reactors cooled with liquid salt in 1952, why the positive vacuum coefficient in an RBMK is so large, and how can it be obtained nuclear weapons from a thorium reactor despite the modern myth to the contrary, one does not begin to understand which projects are feasible and which ones sell snake oil.

The research aimed to produce a conceptual design of a tanker, based on a 70 MWt reactor such as that of Hyperion. Lloyd's has stated that it expects “to see nuclear ships on specific trade routes sooner than many people currently anticipate. Nuclear energy revolutionized the submarine, eventually turning it into a true underwater vessel, rather than a submersible vessel, which could only remain underwater for limited periods of time. Nuclear propulsion has proven to be technically and economically feasible for nuclear-powered icebreakers in the Soviet, and later Russian Arctic.


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