One of Europe’s top ship designers has come out with its own designs for nuclear-powered ships.
Norway’s Ulstein, which also builds vessels, has debuted the Ulstein Thor, a 149 m long concept ship featuring a thorium molten salt reactor (MSR) which would operate as a mobile power/charging station.
While initially aimed at the cruise sector, a spokesperson for the company told Splash today that Ulstein was confident nuclear power could work for most merchant ship types too.
“We believe the MSR technology can be applied directly in most vessel types. We have huge confidence in this solution and want to engage further in conversations about how we can enable the necessary changes the world demands,” the spokesperson said.
This is the most viable, and potentially the only credible, solution for a zero emission fleet that can operate under commercial terms and cost levels
In a release Ulstein said it believes its Thor concept may be the missing piece of the zero emissions puzzle for a broad range of maritime and ocean industry applications. To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein has also developed the Ulstein SIF concept, a 100 m long zero emission expedition cruiseship. This ice class 1C vessel would run on next generation batteries, utilising Thor to recharge while at sea.
“We have the goals, ambition and environmental imperative to switch to zero emission operations, but, until now, we haven’t had the solution,” commented CEO Cathrine Kristiseter Marti. “We believe Thor might be the answer we’ve been looking for. Thor is essentially a floating, multi-purpose power station that will enable a new battery revolution.”
Thorium, an abundant, naturally occurring metal with low radioactivity, has been identified as having potential for a maritime industry hunting for clean alternative fuels.
Speaking about the suitability of thorium MSRs as an energy source for maritime applications, Jan Emblemsvåg, professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, commented: “MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping. There is so much uncertainty over future fuels, but here we have an abundant energy source that, with the right approach, can be safe, much more efficient, cheaper, with a smaller environmental footprint than any existing alternative. From my perspective I see this as the most viable, and potentially the only credible, solution for a zero emission fleet that can operate under commercial terms and cost levels. The Thor concept is exactly the kind of innovation we need for sustainable success at sea.”
Proponents of nuclear propulsion are growing in number and voice. Core Power, arguably the highest profile marine atomic developer in the market, can now boast 49 shipping companies as backers of the UK firm, a grouping made up of owners, operators and managers who, combined, control more than 4,000 ships. Core Power units are based on marine MSRs, a technology using high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).
Other notable marine atomic developments are taking place in South Korea where shipbuilding major Samsung Heavy Industries has teamed up with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute while Seaborg Technologies in Denmark is building floating power barges, and the Canadians are working with NuScale to develop marine power stations. The Russians, meanwhile, already have the market domestically and are now touting a huge new next generation nuclear-powered icebreaker as further proof of their maritime atomic expertise.
Not to be left out, Chinese scientists are developing their own atomic propulsion technologies for both merchant marine and offshore facilities. China has also been testing a thorium-powered nuclear reactor, the world’s first since 1969.