Nuclear and the fourth industrial energy revolution at sea

Ultra-modern nuclear technology for transport and industry – the clock is ticking on what really matters, argues Mikal Bøe from CORE-POWER.

Ultra-modern nuclear technology, like the marine molten salt reactor, is the only viable energy source which can deliver the winning combination of zero emissions, extreme reliability, and low price.

Because of that, positive change is in the air.

A fast-growing number of people around the world, mostly the younger generation, are making the positive case for modern atomic power.

In 10 short years, that generation will be working alongside you for your company.

Leaders from Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and other environmental groups are also changing their outlook on nuclear energy. Proven scientific facts about nuclear energy are being understood properly, with the realisation that to solve climate change, we need more energy-density, not less. That density comes from atomic power, not sunshine and wind.

Our reactor will be 70% cheaper to lease, operate and recycle than any synthetic hydrogen-based fuel

James Lovelock, a patriarch of the environmental movement and the first to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere, begged his friends to drop their objection to nuclear energy.

While a growing number see the opportunity to fight climate change with nuclear energy, others are still fundamentally sceptical. After decades of anti-nuclear rhetoric, it is hardly surprising.

For more than 40 years we have been told that for atomic power to achieve its true potential, we must work harder on securing public acceptance. Members of the nuclear energy industry often say that if the rest of us can just be educated on the technology, we will see the light and come to accept it.

We need to set the bar much higher than that.

Too much time has passed to try to convince everyone to ‘accept’ nuclear. Rather, we have a unique opportunity now to create true public enthusiasm for a technology that has the potential to solve the issues we care about the most.

We use Chernobyl as the lesson for nuclear energy safety like we used the Titanic as a lesson for safety at sea

Guilt-free energy consumption, preservation of the environment and eradication of poverty all come to mind as things we all care deeply about. We must focus on the right things.

We learn, we develop, we move forward.

We use Chernobyl as the lesson for nuclear energy safety like we used the Titanic as a lesson for safety at sea. The Titanic taught the rest of shipping how to design safe ships and protect lives at sea. Chernobyl taught the rest of the world to do nuclear right.

Nuclear energy, whether on land or at sea, in Western Europe or the United States has never killed or harmed a single person, ever.

With liquid fuelled micro-reactors built in America and Europe, we can stop harmful emissions and be self-reliant with durable and all-electric machines powering transport and industry. That opens the door to a world of new marine technologies and a brand-new competitive advantage for shipping.

A fourth industrial energy revolution cannot happen by committee, legislation, or taxation. Instead, as in history, radical change is brought about by new technology that creates real economic advantages. Energy is after all, our mother commodity.

With super-efficient modern nuclear technology, we are not going to run out of that commodity either. On current known reserves of natural materials like uranium and thorium we could run the world entirely on nuclear for over 4,000 years. Did you know that the salt water in our oceans are rich in uranium which we could use to power industry and ocean transportation in the future?

Squeaky clean nuclear energy with super-hero dependability done just right can solve our emission problems at a fundamental level.

This is the only energy technology that leaves little if any waste, lasts for generations and provides constant, reliable energy that we can afford.

At MIT, CERN, and TerraPower, the finest brains on earth understand this clearly, and we can too.

Ultra-modern nuclear energy can deliver on all of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) targets as well as increasing the speed of vessels without concerns of a corresponding increase in NOx, SOx and carbon or GHG emissions from the smoke-stacks of ships or ports – as there will not be any smoke – nor any other emissions.

This is technology that does not require the massive $1.4trn infrastructure-spend for its fuel source like that for synthetic fuels, hydrogen fuel cells or batteries will. The marine molten salt reactor will be 70% cheaper to lease, operate and recycle than any synthetic hydrogen-based fuel.

If we were told that there is a technology that produces durable and sustainable energy that will eliminate noxious and environmentally harmful gases from transport and industry, will we support it?

We must, and we will. As understanding of ultra-modern atomic power grows, the shift in public opinion follows closely, because the world cannot wait any longer for technology that delivers the only solution that can really slow down and reverse global warming whilst the world economy continues to grow and prosper.

True leaders in transport and industry will go first and show the way.


  1. This is all very well but utterly impractical for the shipowner of today.

    Many countries have laws governing whether nuclear powered vessels may call, which straits they may transit etc. US aircraft carriers being denied access to NZ for example – how will Turkey feel about a floating reactor transitting through the heart of Istanbul? Restricted trading options hurt the vessel’s commercial prospects, both during its life and when it comes time to sell her onwards. That’s before we even get to end of life costs, already a problem that nuclear navies of trillion dollar economies have failed to adequately deal with. Witness the rotting hulks of submarines laid up around the coasts of UK and Russia for example.

    Do your cost calculations include the cost of hiring nuclear-qualified engineers? Again, major navies struggle to manage this, how will a shipowner with razor thin margins do so?

    1. There might be some smart people who can resolve those issues. A simple idea is to have satellite shuttles (probably electric that can be charged by the main vessel) that transfer the cargo from the main vessel to the harbor so that the main vessel can be stayed in the open sea…. If there’s a problem, let’s try to solve it..

  2. marine Molten Salt Reactors are a radical departure from conventional nuclear. Compact, closed systems with liquid fuel where the coolant and fuel is the same, means we can achieve 95%+ energy efficiency without producing much in the way of spent fuels. It’s atomic but not as we know it.

    Small and efficient, they can be mass-manufactured to the highest quality standards in America and Europe at a low cost.

    Competitive advantage from marine technology has been gradually eroding to the point where there is virtually none left. That’s why margins are so wafer thin today. Too many ships in each sector, all largely the same, performing the same tasks in a race to the bottom of profitability.

    Reluctance to change is a human condition. Many thought it unpractical to build iron ships. Even more thought it deeply unpractical to put steam engines onboard.

    By using ultra-modern atomic power developed in the US and Europe, we can entirely change the way ships are designed and the pact that our industry has with the public can be re-written.

    The public opinion of which so many are so scared, is focused on the environment, quality of life, affordability and sustainability. The technology that provides the solution to those, will not just be accepted, but be embraced.

    Sustainable energy like modern liquid fuelled atomic reduces the lifecycle environmental footprint of ships from mining of construction materials to reuse of the final spent fuels, and can change the way ships are designed and ports work. Providing electric power to ports, reducing pollution and noise as well as the potential for processing of commodities at sea, can be a game changer for the whole industry.

    The shipowner of today is unlikely to be the shipowner of tomorrow. The same goes for the charterer, the port, the financier, the insurer and the men and women onboard.

    Leasing of integrated propulsion systems would come with through-life maintenance and trained crew members at a fraction of the cost of synthetic fuels. If fossil fuels are to be taxed as is being proposed, even they will be more expensive than marine molten salt reactors.

    It’s a competitive world, and that, and only that, will not change in the coming decades.

    1. These HRE reactor types like MSR are Health Physics Radiation Protection nightmares. That is a major reason Rickover did not want any HRE reactor types used for naval propulsions. He wanted most fission products and fuel confined to solid fuel inside the core any not circulating through the steam generator pipes, heat exchangers, valves, pumps etc. He realized that if there were steam generator failures pressurized water or steam would enter the primary coolant at lower pressures and create reactor stability and other probelms like an explosion in a salt cooled reactor or sodium cooled reactor.

  3. More lies, 3 US Servicemen were killed in the USA in I believe 1961 when the SL-1 Reactor they were working on exploded. This was a compact experimental Nuclear Power Plant of modular design – similar to the concept Rolls Royce are now pushing.

    1. That was almost 60 years ago. You really don’t think they’ve had a chance to tweak thinks since then?

  4. Mikal- Thank you for illuminating the attributes of the “new nuclear”. The public, including maritime industry professionals, still carry the images of Chernobyl and, more recently, Fukushima. Your solution is dramatically different which needs to be better understood in order to gain both public and industry acceptance. Help us see how the MSR creates its energy safely. Help us understand how you plan to harness that energy for marine transportation that is cost-effective. Tell us the plan for gaining national acceptance– or how you believe it can be deployed on routes between accepting nations then expanded. Explain how you will manage waste so we are not creating a bigger problem down the road.
    Our industry is looking for solutions, and approaches them from a risk mitigation standpoint. I believe you have the answers to the above, and look forward to hearing them!

  5. Very pleased to read this. Curious the way people refer to the Fukushima “Disaster”. There was the Tsunami and a worldwide panic about nuclear reactors. However the radiation caused no casualty at all. The world has developed a phobia about nuclear power. Some of the strongest voices in support are those who have led careers in nuclear submarines.

  6. Technical challenges can be resolved. Safety standards developed. Crew can be trained.
    However, political distrust can’t, since it’s driven by fear, ignorance and disinterest in global shipping.
    No shipowner can overcome such challenge.
    Hence, this technology will stay on the shelf for the foreseeable future, and not play a meaningful role in the energy transition.
    Too bad.

    1. It remains to be seen, if technical and health Physics issues with MSRs or other liquid nuclear fuel reactors producing steam to power ships can be adequately and economically resolved. There are technical and health Physics issues that prevented HRE2, LAMPRE 2 and others from continuing to operate. A whole group of highly specialized Nuclear Radiological Chemical Process Engineers and technicians will be required to run these types of fluid nuclear fuel (and fission product) homogeneous reactors like MSR or LAMPRE types. These people are not needed for current nuclear powered naval vessels

  7. Regardless of the purpose, means or other context for the endless push for cheaper energy, and regardless of the source nuclear, fossil fuel, or renewable the outcome of all this effort is disaster.
    The more successful the enterprise the more disastrous for the environment. By far the worst impact on our biosphere in the last 200 years is the application of cheap energy to consume our environment for our private comfort. The only way forward is to massively increase the price for all human activity, or at least ensure that any new energy investment is accompanied by the displacement of a much larger old investment.
    The accelerating cycle of resources to waste via cheap energy is our biggest problem.

  8. The most frequent comment shared when we talk of nuclear energy and atomic power is that public fear of radiation and political will to approve new nuclear technology, will never happen. This is ultimately a defeatist argument which accepts that only what has been done before is possible and what has not been done yet, is not worth the effort. Human progress has endured despite such attitudes, because at the heart of our endeavour to make thing better, there is a real reason to do so.

    Here is why the public is afraid of nuclear energy:

    In the 1970s, interest rates rose to 18% in the US. The cost of building new nuclear power plants skyrocketed and the developers of those reactors lost their orderbooks and faced bankruptcy. Nuclear energy went from being the cheapest to the most expensive, and the developer side of the industry was mothballed. What remained was just the service side of those businesses.

    Twelve days before a reactor mishap at Three Mile Island, where noone was hurt and certainly no-one died, the movie “China syndrome” was released in the US describing a fictional result of a nuclear meltdown, where reactor components melt through their containment structures and into the underlying earth, “all the way to China”. It’s pure fiction and as realistic a scenario as that found in Super-hero movies. It is meant to entertain, or in the case of the China Syndrome, induce bone chilling horror.

    The resulting media frenzy around the TMI incident resulted in loud calls for massively enhanced nuclear safety protocols by anti-nuclear campaigners and the service side of the nuclear industry, which was the only part left after the shut-down of the developer side of those reactor companies, saw its only opportunity to make back the money it had lost, and joined the chorus. After all, who could say no to multi-hundred million dollar orders to add layers upon layers of expensive, and largely unnecessary after-market add ons?

    As a result, the pressure containment structure of a Light Water Reactor on its own, now makes up 80% of the cost of building a power plant.

    Fear was the greatest sales tool. The more fearful the public, the more sales could be made. The industry had shot itself squarely in the foot in a bid to survive.

    Still to this day, noone has died and no one has been hurt at TMI or at any other commercial plant built, approved and licensed in the West.

    Even at Fukushima in 2011, not one person was harmed by ionising radiation from the damaged reactor. From the three reactors, normally producing 3GW of electric power that had their cores damaged, 28 grams of Iodine-131, the only one of the three isotopes released which can cause damage to tissue, was released. I-131 has a half life of 8 days, and is completely gone in under 2 months. 28 grams. Less than one teaspoon. Desipte this, fear was stoked and it’s now called the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. What exactly was so disastrous, we have to ask.

    So here we are. A public taught to be afraid of something that does not kill and does not harm.

    Until now, little new nuclear technology has been developed.

    The same old companies which can still build the light water reactors of the 1960s are still around, servicing their over-regulated, over-engineered and as a result over-priced, reactor technology. Some are trying to break free by making those old designs smaller, whilst others are taking a whole new approach.

    By standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and who made such a mess of the only energy technology that is truly zero-emissions, we are using the lessons of the past to build brand new technology for which a new enthusiasm is growing.

    The Molten Salt Reactor is simpler, and vastly more efficient than a Light Water Reactor. It has no pressure, so it doesn’t need a pressure containment structure (that’s 80% of the costs and whole chapters of regulation gone).

    It’s liquid so it can’t meltdown. It runs and runs and runs and as it does so, constantly recycles its own fuel to generate stable, high temperature heat which we use to make electricity in a turbine.

    It doesn’t release toxins into the environment. It requires just 500 tons of construction material per TWh, compared to 33,000 tons per TWh for offshore wind. It takes up minimal space and is reliable 24 hours per day, no matter the weather or the wave height.

    At the end of fuel cycle, and that’s a very long time, there is minimal waste which is then NOT released into the environment, but rather used for valuable medical purposes and advanced electronics needed for space exploration. What’s left is stored in dry casks until for 200-300 years and then returned to earth.

    Those are the characteristics we need and want in our energy systems.

    1. Unfortunately, we still do not know for sure what happened in the fuel at Fukushima 1-3. Did the fuel vaporize and release via steam explosions? How much actually melted down and where did it end up? Did PuO2 separate from UO2 during heat up and melt producing a stratified layer of PuO2 eutectics which achieved the necessary geometry to go super critical (especially prior to Fukushima Unit 3 explosion). How much fuel particles and longer lived fission products ended up at the bottom of Fukushima Bay post explosions? These all need to be resolved.

  9. I think that the small MSR or LAMPRE type reactors producing steam and electricity will have to be proven in stationary land based power plants prior to installation in surface or submarine vessels. We need to determine how to circulate fluid nuclear fuel through a reactor and the critical associated radiochemical separation plants (fission product removal) and replenishing liquidized fuel plant and also the necessary steam generation plant used to propel the vessel with steam or electricity produced by super heated steam in turbines. This is needed to determine 1) required increased shielding of reactor piping, heat exchangers, steam generators etc, 2) the required size (expected to increase) of the steam production and waste handling systems and how these added features (over heterogeneous reactors) will add to the overall costs. Much work is needed to develop remote or robotic maintenance tools to service these homogeneous reactors like MSR or LAMPRE types. The DOE has funded a demonstration MSR steam production plant to determine the best approaches for small electric power plants on land. From this demonstration plant, we may be able to determine if MSR is economically feasible for commercial shipping vessels. I do not believe MSR would be used in naval vessels because of shielding requirements and concern for maintenance down time due to leaks of fluid fuel and fission products and other maintenance issues. Time will tell but I would expect at least 30 years (2050) before an MSR powered ship will operate on the seas transporting goods.

Back to top button