Ground-breaking ABS study explores potential of commercial nuclear propulsion

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The transformational impact of nuclear propulsion on the design, operation and emissions of a 14k TEU container vessel and a 157k DWT Suezmax tanker have been modelled by ABS and Herbert Engineering Corp. (HEC) in a ground-breaking study.
ABS commissioned HEC to carry out the study to explore the potential of advanced modern reactor technology for commercial marine propulsion. The study is designed to help industry better understand the feasibility and safety implications of nuclear propulsion and to support future development projects.

The study, which involved input from leading nuclear reactor developers, modelled the impact of two, lead-cooled, 30MW fast reactors on the container carrier, finding it would likely increase cargo capacity and operational speed, while eliminating the need for refuelling during its entire 25-year lifespan. On the Suezmax vessel, the study found the addition of four, 5MW, heat-pipe microreactors, while decreasing cargo capacity, would raise operational speeds and only require refuelling once during its 25-year life. Both concept vessels would emit zero CO2.

“Our findings from this latest cutting-edge research underscore why the industry cannot afford to ignore the vast potential offered by nuclear propulsion both in terms of emissions reduction and operational efficiency,” said Christopher J. Wiernicki, ABS Chairman and CEO. “A net-zero world is more easily realized through nuclear propulsion, and we are putting in place the foundations for that future today. Turning this into a practical reality will require significant public sector support and ABS is well placed to bring governments and industry together.”

“Advanced or small modular reactors address many of the issues traditionally associated with nuclear for commercial maritime use, with enhanced safety and efficiency, reduced cost and waste and proliferation prevention,” said Robert Tagg, Senior Principal Naval Architect at HEC. “Nevertheless, many questions need to be answered and it is critical that industry evaluate these technologies with a laser focus on safety.”

“HEC is pleased to be able to support ABS and explore the practical application of nuclear power on board. This study is helping us to understand in detail both the potential of modern reactor technology and how this will affect the design and operation of future vessels.”

ABS is playing a pioneering role in supporting the development of nuclear propulsion for commercial vessels. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded ABS a contract to research barriers to the adoption of advanced nuclear propulsion on commercial vessels. The DOE has also contracted ABS to support research into thermal-electric integration of a nuclear propulsion system on a commercial vessel being carried out by the University of Texas.

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