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Shipping industry should consider nuclear option for decarbonizing: experts

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Shipping industry should consider nuclear option for decarbonizing: experts

Highlights

Existing IMO rules may need update

New technology for reactors under development

New York — Stakeholders in the maritime industry are considering an increased uptake of nuclear power as one of its choices as it strives to meet decarbonization targets that the International Maritime Organization has mandated, according to industry observers and participants.

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Nuclear power has been shunned because of safety, geopolitical security, and economic reasons, but it is an established technology in which new frontiers are being developed and should be considered as an option in the debate on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, Edmund Hughes of consultancy Green Marine Associates and the former head of Air Pollution and Energy Efficiency at the IMO, told S&P Global Platts Nov. 4.

There are some inquiries from companies about the further uptake of nuclear power within the shipping industry and its impact on the sector could be significant, Andreas Sohmen-Pao, chairman of shipping company BW Group said Oct. 28 during a webinar on decarbonization that Norwegian Business Association Singapore organized.

Over 160 ships are powered by more than 200 small nuclear reactors, according to the World Nuclear Association. Military vessels in the US and Russian navies, and ships that Russia's Sovcomflot owns and operates are some examples.

This source of power confers some advantages. "You will have ships going maybe 50% faster because the fuel is essentially free once you have made the upfront capex investment," Sohmen-Pao said.

This has obvious implications for the supply side of the bunker industry.

There is existing IMO legislation for nuclear-powered ships. Chapter VIII of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 gives basic requirements for nuclear-powered ships that are particularly concerned with radiation hazards. This set of rules refers to a detailed and comprehensive Code of Safety for nuclear merchant ships, which the IMO Assembly adopted in 1981, according to IMO material.

IMO legislation would need to be updated to take into account more recent developments, the existing legislation was developed with military applications in mind, Hughes said. One example is the small-scale molten salt reactor, Hughes said.

London-based CORE POWER is working with Advanced Reactor Developers to meet the demand for disruptive energy technology in ocean transportation. On Nov. 2, it announced its participation with Southern Company, TerraPower, and Orano USA to develop Molten Salt Reactor atomic technology in the US.

The IMO is targeting a reduction in the carbon intensity of international shipping by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 2008 levels and by 70% by 2050. It is also targeting cuts of annual GHGs from international shipping by 50% by 2050, compared with 2008 levels.

Shipping industry players are considering a range of long-term zero-carbon solutions, such as ammonia and hydrogen.

These options are not risk free and present the problem of low energy density, Hughes said.