Learning about advanced atomic

Mikal Bøe, CEO of CORE-POWER, douses many concerns people might have about nuclear power at sea.

Global shipping can only decarbonise if it can afford to and through decisive legislation by all coastal countries, and that’s a big challenge.

We must learn how to solve it, and that the answer will come from multiple solutions.

We’ve already learnt that emissions are warming the planet and causing real harm to humanity. We’ve learnt that combustion causes exhaust; zero carbon is not zero emissions and that net zero is not zero. We’re realising that true-zero emissions can only be achieved with energy systems that do not combust.

If we are to reduce 2008 emissions by 50%, then move to a complete true-zero energy system in the future, we must learn to look at the challenge from different angles so that we can see new solutions that are fit-for-purpose in different settings.

There are now 100,000 vessels on the water which are 100 GRT or larger. Of these, just 7,300 ships consume 47% of all marine fuels and cause almost 50% of all the air pollution from shipping. That’s not just an issue for ocean transportation, but for all the stakeholders who rely on our industry for the delivery of commodities, industrial components, and durable consumer goods. Shipping is perceived as the major polluter of global trade. That affects us all.

All the world’s 1,650 capes would produce enough waste over 25 years to fit into a single 40-foot container

Those 7,300 ships are the largest bulkers, tankers, container ships and cruise ships. This ‘sub-sector’ of shipping is the one that carries most of the cargo, only trades between a limited number of ports and is operated by the strongest and most resilient companies. It’s in effect, the industrial-carriage end of our market. If we can learn how to bring true-zero emission energy systems to these ships, we can solve the IMO2050 challenge, and afford to do so on our own terms.

Why? Because the only true-zero emission energy system that can take on the challenge of both true-zero emissions and affordability for the largest ships, is advanced atomic. Not conventional nuclear, or naval propulsion technologies which has been in use for decades and is not suitable for commercial shipping, but a new generation of machines like the Molten Salt Reactor which is designed to be fit-for-purpose in large ships.

MSRs are fit-for-purpose in large ships because they can provide power for life and do really well in marine accidents. They emit nothing at all, even if a ship sinks, and that make them immune to pollution taxes and carbon penalties. We learnt this week that CO2 taxes could cost up to $250 per ton, adding $750 to the cost of a ton of VLSFO.

Pressure is also growing from global brand-named shippers, as nine major companies including Amazon, Ikea and Unilever pledged to only move cargo on ships using zero-carbon fuel by 2040. Their goal is to pressure the shipping industry, through their ‘aggressive’ plan, to decarbonise faster.

The companies – which also includes Zara owner Inditex, Michelin, Patagonia, Brooks Running, Frog Bikes and Tchibo – said fuels used to hit the target must be scalable and have zero greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis including production. The companies’ initiative rules out using LNG as a fuel

MSRs are more powerful than current diesel engines, giving greater service speeds. They do not need refuelling, which takes away the need for fuel tanks or bunkering stops. If we accept this, we quickly learn that this means more cargo can be carried, faster for longer at a predictable and affordable price. We learn that it’s not just about cost anymore, it’s about cost and benefit.

To get there we need to learn a lot of new things. We’re good at that, and we like learning new things. Learning about advanced atomic and the MSR is exciting, and a real eye-opener. A large a growing cohort of shipping executives now learning about the MSR is testament to that.

Learning about waste

MSRs are remarkably fuel efficient, which is why they can power ships for so long. Learning why, is important. A capesize bulker running on MSR power would consume less than 200Kg of MSR-fuel in 25 years, leaving the same 200Kg as a final metallic waste to be stored in a dry cask the size of a briefcase for about 300 years. That’s equivalent of 1 gram of fuel per MW Day. Learning how that happens is exciting. All the world’s 1,650 capes would produce enough waste over 25 years to fit into a single 40-foot container or alternatively, we could use nuclear waste from conventional nuclear power stations as a fuel. That would change the waste debate completely, and it would be a lot cheaper than the cheapest bunkers. Lots to learn here.

The current cape fleet carries nearly all of the1.1 billion tons of seaborne iron ore every year. That fleet emits over 100 million tons of CO2 per year, amounting to 2.5 billion tons over the lifecycle of the fleet. Around 10% of that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for up to 120,000 years which means that 250 million tons of CO2 in smoke from the current capesize fleet will still be here with us in the year 122,021 continuously causing global warming.

That smoke is released into the air uncontrolled; it is toxic, carcinogenic, and harmful to the natural world. If we add the other 98,350 vessels on the water, you can see how our industry’s reputation as a major polluter is hard to argue against. End-of-life waste from advanced atomic can be mostly recycled, reused and re-purposed. We’ve been doing it for 80 years, we’re good at it and we know it doesn’t harm anyone, and it doesn’t pollute nature. It’s not common knowledge, but it’s worth learning about because nuclear waste is not what you think it is.

Learning about safety

Standards and safety regulations for atomic technologies are the most sophisticated standards in the world. Combining these with those for advanced atomic ships, means these new true-zero ships will be built to the highest new standards. They will be manned by specially trained personnel whose will enjoy jobs with status and good pay. They will be flagged in countries with mature atomic regulators, not under flags of convenience.

The UK is one such country and is taking the lead. The UK Government announced in August that it will pass SOLAS Chapter 8 (The ‘nuclear code’) into law in 2021, laying the path to a resurgent UK flag for large ships powered by advanced atomic technologies and for such ships to call in UK ports. These advanced atomic ships will be built to new class rules and operate with appropriate insurances. They could be jointly owned by the ships’ operators and the advanced atomic plant owners.

Increasingly, ports will want these ships, operated by responsible organisations for their true-zero emission environmental footprint and the benefit of having clean electric power provided from the ship to shore gear whilst on berth.

This month our industry is doing its best to get noticed by world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow, demanding predictable policies, supportive regulations, and carbon taxes.

What will happen? We will learn that politicians, regulators, and stakeholders are realising the answer to decarbonising is not limited to hydrogen and intermittent weather energies but includes powerful and fit-for-purpose advanced atomic technologies. The landscape will shift, and we will learn that a multitude of new solutions which we can afford, are possible.


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