The Shipping Industry’s Transition To Atomic Power And Faster Deliveries

The transport of goods with cargo ships and especially container ships is the backbone of today’s economies, with about 90% of non-bulk cargo transported with them. This is in addition to the large number of oil tankers and LNG carriers. Unfortunately, due to their use of diesel engines they are also responsible for about 3.5% of the world’s CO2 emissions, in addition to 18 – 30% of nitrogen oxide and 9% of sulfur oxides.

Although the switch to low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) and the use of speed limits has reduced some of these pollutants, the shipping industry sees itself faced with the necessity to decarbonize in order to meet the obligations of the Paris Agreement. This essentially means finding a way to switch from diesel engines to an alternative which has comparable or better fuel costs, produces no or almost no pollutants and will not negatively affect logistics.

As a highly competitive, cut-throat industry, this does seem to leave shipping companies backed up against  a wall. Yet an existing, proven technology just so happens to exist already which can be retrofitted into existing cargo ships.

Ship It Bigger, Not Faster

Windjammer Moshulu, in 2009.

Since most cargo is not of the perishable type, the main motivating factor behind the shipping industry’s investments has been to carry more cargo with a single ship. During the last decades of sailing cargo ships (iron-hulled sailing ships) that lasted into the early 20th century, they managed to compete with the steam ships of the time mostly on account of being cheaper to operate. The largest so-called windjammer to survive to this day (Moshulu) was constructed in 1903 in Scotland.

With steam engines quickly losing ground by the 1960s to diesel engines, both in the shipping and rail industries, diesel engines became the workhorses of the modern world, powering everything from trucks to trains to the biggest container ships. At about the same time, the massive leaps in our understanding of the atomic world led to a number of experiments with using a nuclear fission reactor as a direct replacement of the steam boilers of yesteryear.

One of the most famous early nuclear-powered cargo ships was the NS Savannah, which was launched in 1959. As a demonstration vessel with mixed passenger/cargo use, she was however not meant to be profitable. With the far less complicated regulations concerning diesel engines and low diesel fuel prices taking precedence over other considerations, the shipping industry would collectively opt for this propulsion method.

SMR-powered Sevmorput container ship in 2007.

At this point in time, the Russian Sevmorput container ship (launched 1986) is the only active nuclear-powered cargo ship in the world. It is currently used for supply runs to Russia’s Antarctic research stations, alongside Russia’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.

The new Project 22220 icebreakers feature an RITM-200 SMR (small modular reactor) with a 7 year refueling cycle, similar to the multi-year fuel cycle of the Sevmorput. The elimination of refueling considerations is helpful in this environment, allowing for increased cargo capacity and simplified logistics.

It’s the Logistics, Silly

As alluded to earlier, shipping companies are not interested in risks when they can avoid them. With a mid-century deadline to reach near-zero emissions looming, there is willingness to invest in change, but only so much. This is where radical propositions — such as in this 2018 IEEE Spectrum article on switching to hydrogen and fuel cells — face a very tough sell.

In this article, it is pointed out that a converted cargo ship, filled with fuel cells, batteries and hydrogen storage tanks, could theoretically have enough electrical power to last one trip to the next port. This points at a number of negatives, with the possibility of a hydrogen leak leading to a stranded cargo ship, the need to refuel highly compressed hydrogen at every port, and a large amount of space taken up by the (thick-walled) compressed hydrogen tanks. It is also not a system that’s compatible with turbo-electric transmissions, and would require extensive retrofitting in existing cargo ships.

A final nail in the coffin is the lack of refueling infrastructure at ports around the world, and the fact that right now virtually all hydrogen is produced from fossil methane (‘natural gas’) steam reforming and similar sources. Essentially, this transition would be one of many unknowns, high risks, expensive world-wide investments and uncertain gains in the event that it does work out as hoped.

Welcome to the Navy

USS Nimitz (CVN-68), a US Navy aircraft carrier. Photo is from after her 1999-2001 refit.

Although the shipping industry has mostly opted to go with cheap bunker fuels for its cargo ships, since the 1950s the use of nuclear propulsion has become an integral part of the world’s most powerful armed forces. While a diesel submarine is useful, it cannot stay submerged for days on end and needs to refuel weekly instead of once every few decades. Similarly, CATOBAR-style aircraft carriers require both the power and elimination of refueling that could otherwise make a conflict rather embarrassing when one’s prized aircraft carrier runs out of fuel.

If adopted to a cargo ship context, and assuming marine reactors like those used in Russia’s RITM SMRs with 20% low-enriched uranium-235 (compared to >90% for some US naval reactors), the logistics of refueling would be limited to a single refueling stop roughly once every seven years, during which the fuel would be swapped. If one were to use a molten salt or pebble bed reactor, refueling could be done more flexibly, with less time spent on the process.

Wärtsilä RT-flex96C naval diesel engine.

Other advantages of the use of nuclear propulsion is that since the fuel has a very high power density, no fuel tanks are needed. Instead the reactor along with a steam turbine could replace the building-sized diesel engine in container ships, like the Wärtsilä RT-flex96C with a height of 13.5 meters and length of 26.5 meters. The nuclear retrofit would thus combine engine and fuel in the same space as the engine block originally, allowing for increased cargo capacity.

Due to naval reactors having been in use by various nations in a variety of scenarios since the 1950s, the risks and benefits are both well known, making them as much of a known quantity as the diesel engines that they are set to replace.

Time to Step On It

The past few years, the use of nuclear propulsion has found new voices within the shipping industry.  As noted by people in the industry, a major hurdle is the lack of legislation by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in this area, which at this point mostly considers nuclear propulsion in the context of military vessels. This might change quickly, however, as noted by Andreas Sohmen-Pao, chairman of shipping company BW Group. According to him, the benefits of nuclear propulsion are evident, with the low operating costs being the most obvious.

Instead of having to deal with the recurrent costs of refueling, a cargo ship with nuclear propulsion would be effectively free after the upfront investment. With no pollution emissions or fuel costs to consider, this would allow for cargo ships to go faster, allowing for a 50% speed increase in some cases. Or more simply put, assuming a casual three-week shipping time for a container ship from China to the US, a 50% speed increase would reduce that time by a full week.

Economics aside, the fact of the matter remains that the shipping industry has to reduce its emission footprint rapidly. As a risk-averse industry, any changes would have to be gradual and well planned out, with drop-in solutions likely welcomed over revolutionary upsets. Here a solid and proven technology like nuclear propulsion could provide just what is needed. These facts have been recognized by British maritime classification society Lloyd’s Register when it rewrote its rules after feedback from its members. Lloyd’s has stated that it expects to “see nuclear ships on specific trade routes sooner than many people currently anticipate.”

A Potential Shipping Revolution

Depending on how things work out, we may see a shipping industry which not only manages to decarbonize in record time, but also makes the shipping routes faster and more reliable than before. With cargo ships free to travel as fast as the weather and local traffic allow, ordering some widget from the other side of the world might take considerably less time, all without the guilt of the environmental impact that shipping has today.

Then there is the other kind of ‘shipping’, in the form of cruise ships, which are also far from clean, especially when idling in ports. Going on a cruise may seem slightly less decadent if those ships no longer belch out plumes of black diesel exhaust fumes while steaming past idyllic islands.

Here is to the Age of the Atom to conclude the Age of Diesel.

203 thoughts on “The Shipping Industry’s Transition To Atomic Power And Faster Deliveries

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a fair few places that would say, “nope, not in my city.”
      Considering how companies tends to do budget cuts both left and right while also registering their vessels in questionable places for the sake of cheaper operation.

      It wouldn’t be unfair to say that a lot of places would be afraid of having a similar experience to what Beirut went through earlier this year. (Even if the reactor on a ship isn’t built to be a bomb, but politics and public opinion tends to be stronger than engineering when it comes to what is and isn’t practical/accepted.)

      Not to mention all the countries that would point a finger at other nations and say that nuclear powered vessels isn’t allowed in the other country’s ports. (International shipping likely won’t be easier if muddled by international nuclear diplomacy…)

      Nuclear powered naval/military vessels are easier, since a country can’t just roll into another country’s port with a military vessel without explicit permission first. (It is generally regarded as highly suspicious and at times as an act of war. Ie, the international diplomacy regarding the situation is more clear, either one doesn’t have permission and it’s likely an ongoing war, or one has permission to take the nuclear vessel through the other country’s waters. But if it isn’t war, and one ends up on someone else’s territory with a military vehicle without permission, then one better have a silver tongue, or a good explanation/excuse, and then hurry back out, unless one gets permission that is.)

      In short, nuclear powered civil vessels is a sticky subject.

      1. > It wouldn’t be unfair to say that a lot of places would be afraid of having a similar experience to what Beirut went through earlier this year. (Even if the reactor on a ship isn’t built to be a bomb, but politics and public opinion tends to be stronger than engineering when it comes to what is and isn’t practical/accepted.)

        It wouldn’t have to be a bomb. Even a meltdown, conventional explosion and scattering of nuclear material or sinking would do significant damage. It’s still a serious risk.

        It would proliferate nuclear material a lot too, right now all uses of nuclear material have good security. Whereas cargo ships are not run very securely and visit questionable countries. No, you can’t use this material to make a fission bomb. But you can use it to make a dirty bomb.

        And accidents / sinkings of cargo ships will contribute to nuclear material in the oceans.

        1. seawater is a great radiation shield. if the reactor starts to melt down have a system that drops the whole core into the ocean depths. it can hang out there and then recover it later with a specially equipped vessel. it seems messy but its not.

          pretty sure we have meltdown-proof reactors on the drawing board somewhere. so it might be a moot point.

          1. > if the reactor starts to melt down have a system that drops the whole core into the ocean depths.

            You’d need to have it controlled by a computer with a voice interface. “Computer, eject the warp core. Authorization Janeway Omega Seven Nine”

          2. Both the US and Russia have nuclear Reactors that have fallen to the bottom of the oceanwith no detrimentsl effect and they have been there, innocuous for many decades.

          3. > pretty sure we have meltdown-proof reactors on the drawing board somewhere. so it might be a moot point.

            Yes, in this situation you can definitely design the reactor to make it meltdown-proof.

            You can also add a bunch of features to make it even safer in case of an issue:

            * Automatically flood it with Boron if there is any issue
            * Automatically eject it from the boat if there is any issue
            * Host it in a “sarcophagus” made out of lead or whatever, with only input/outputs for water and control cables (and any tubing having automatic valves etc.).

            This (and other similar issues) would make it so if there is any issue with the reactor, it just drops to the bottom of the ocean, where the reactions stop, and it does not pollute its environment in any way, it just sits there inert until it can be recovered (or it can be left there if it’s just deep enough…). If it’s surrounded by glass or concrete, it can sit there for thousands of years with no danger to the environment…

            You can also easily implement “recovery” features in case it needs to be ejected:
            * Automatically release a cable with a buoy so it’s easy to find it and you don’t actually need to search for it at the bottom of the ocean
            * Pre-attached flotation devices, that inflate on demand (or after say a month), probably using some sort of chemical system/reaction.

            So if it ever gets ejected, all you need to do is either:
            1. Grab the cable attached to the buoy, and pull on it with a recovery vessel to bring it back up to the surface, or
            2. Wait for (or request) the floaters to inflate, and when it’s at the surface recover it

            All this is pretty cheap, and makes the system extremely safe / ready to handle any future problems.

            Compared to the benefits in terms of fuel savings and increased speed, this is all very inexpensive, and I expect can be made to make all of this very safe.

        2. A properly designed low power reactor of the sort needed here can easily be made such that it can not melt down even if you tried to break it. Could still be used as part of a dirty bomb etc but accidental spread of a nuclear material from a reactor built correctly for this role would be easy to make ‘impossible’.

          Any sinking really doesn’t matter a fig – the deep ocean around the wreck will for a period of a few decades/century be slightly warmer that it should be – something that happens in spots all over the sea bed for other reasons. The piddly amount of radioactive material in the deep oceans really won’t effect anything with how good water is at absorbing it.

          If you did manage to spread it aerosol it would be a small health hazard in the area effected, and bad for anybody unfortunate enough to breath it in. But its never going to be all that bad as the reactor will be so damn tiny – the world is full of radioactivity anyway and distributing this small amount over any significant area would relatively quickly be not that much worse than normal background anyway, and over a smaller area while harmful to rapidly lethal its ineffectual compared to simpler methods – if you really want to terrorize you use simple explosion distributed gas attacks – the sort of stuff you can make from stuff readily available so you don’t have to hold up a ship, gut its core to make your dirty bomb- just buy wholesale quantities of common reagents carefully enough to not get caught..

          All that said it seems to me the easiest fuels for ships are probably powdered metals – they have the space and bunkerage to retrofit and powdered metal can be easily be mass converted back to metal powder ready to oxidize again from grid surplus power.. I’ve nothing against nuclear ships, and can see the positives of them, but for largely political and social reasons they have rather huge hurdles to jump, and the more you make nuclear material available in bulk spread around the more likely and simpler it becomes to abuse it – which being an invisible killer rightly terrifies.

          1. “Any sinking really doesn’t matter a fig – the deep ocean around the wreck will for a period of a few decades/century be slightly warmer that it should be”

            I would imagine that most sinkings occur near the coast in shallow water near or in things like fishing grounds (after all ships don’t sink for no reason, most of the time its because they hit something, such a a rock )

            Not sure the residents of a port city would be happy to know that there was a wreck spewing nucleotides just off the coast for a few decades/centuries

          2. Theory of unintended consequences ring a bell?

            I can’t imagine ANY problems with a bunch of nuclear powered ships in the hands of private for profit companies who choose to register their ships in the Ivory Coast to save money.

            There is a reason why all the world’s coal plants haven’t already been converted to nuclear.

          3. Unless its sunk actually in the river delta or harbor itself so is very very shallow it really doesn’t matter, the water will absorb all the radiation so people will be safe.
            Fishing could be effected, but as the local species of fish should be uncomfortable in hotter water they won’t stay in the hot zone either, and fishing boats won’t fish in a place with no fish they want to catch and their nets will snag on the wreck.

            I’m in total agreement with notspam however, unless really well monitored and regulated internationally the less scrupulus companies will be a hazzard – though the reason coal stations haven’t been replaced with nuclear is output in the GW needs huge complex and potentially weapons grade generating reactor design, the little bit of stay hot enough to drive the turbine needed to power a ship is orders of magnitude smaller and won’t be a weapons grade generating (I mean it could be, but nobody would want anything to do with that ship, or it near their waters under those circumstances)

        3. Just use molten salt reactors like LFTR any damage to it molts the plug drains reactor to containment beneath where it solidifies. Cleaning it up just cut into pieces and pump it back into some other LFTR reactor. As for cargo ships visiting questionable countries oh boy we aren’t talking about tramp freighters we are talking about things like Emma Maersk or CSCL Globe ships twice the size of Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier. They don’t visit questionable places, they have tight schedules and timetables on fixed routes with very limited number of ports that can even handle them.

          The problem i see is typical crew on big container ships is under 20 people. Navies have large crew and in case of emergency they have profesional hands to deal with it, the smallest nuclear subs project 705 Lira or NATO code Alfa has 31 people crew, typical ballistic missile subs like Ohio 151 crew, Vanguard class 135 crew, attack subs Barracuda class 60 people, Astute 98, Los Angeles 129, Project 885 Yasen 85, 885M YasenM 64… Yes take away all the folks working on weapons and other military systems you still get to take another 10 to 15 people to crew. It mnight not seem like a lot but those are nuclear technicians, engineers highly trained people that you need to pay not only salary of typical nuclear powerplant engineer but a sailor that will spend half a year on voyage. Then duble the crew because they work in rotations on crew rests at home whole the other works. And multiply by number of ships. Yea running a ship isn’t cheap but anyone that knows modern corporations knows that employees cost is always the biggest part after initial investment.

          1. >Cleaning it up just cut into pieces and pump it back into some other LFTR reactor.

            How do you do that, when the slab of salt is so radioactive that you can’t approach it for 30 years? It’s fine in theory, but you can’t do it for real. A molten salt reactor in a ship that just might go upside-down and break in half is a really bad idea, because all your safety mechanisms are based on gravity pointing in a certain direction.

            Furthermore, since the salts are reactive with water, all the radioactive spillout will be water-soluble. A traditional reactor uses solid oxides which simply sit there without going anywhere, whereas the molten salt reactor would pollute the whole batch of ocean. The traditional way to make a ship’s reactor is to build it self-containing, so if it melts it doesn’t spill anything. It’s just a total loss and you have to remove it from the ship.

          2. Not to mention that military vessels are also a bit more secure by their very nature.

            It isn’t uncommon for cargo ships to be taken hostage, and if it carries material that could see use as a bomb, then that is just a second reason to try to take it.

            Not saying that the material would be practical in a bomb, but we have to think from the uneducated perspective here.

            Though, the crew issue is rather huge, since such a ship would practically require not just a larger engine crew, but most likely security as well.

            Though, a salt reactor on the sea is likely not going to sit well with people, since practically all salts easily dissolve in water. So radioactive salts can make some people a bit squeamish.

          3. The molten salt reactor is a bad idea anywhere because of the solubility issue.

            Water is everywhere. It’s raining down from the sky. If the fuel material ever escapes containment and gets exposed to the elements, it will get around very quickly and far, and it will be readily taken up by plants and animals.

        4. “Serious damage.”
          Not really. Fukushima, as bad as it was, still hasn’t killed anyone.

          Cargo ship reactors would more emulate reactors on Aircraft Carriers. One thing all the Anti-Nuxxers ignore is physics – a smaller reactor has a larger surface area-to-volume ratio. This makes it inordinately harder to melt down, and easier to keep cool. Small reactors like this can be kept passively cool. No power required. Even newer, larger reactors can do this (AP1000), but we’ve known how to passively cool small reactors like this for so long now that it’s a tried-and-true technology.

          As far as proliferation?
          It’s not like you can just walk in with a wrench and pop open the closure head. You literally need a specially equipped shipyard. Good luck getting it there in the first place without a cooperative crew.
          “Oh, we’re being boarded? Scram the reactor. Let them have fun figuring out how to get propulsion back without tripping the plant each time.” You’d need someone (or, rather, a dozen-someones) who’d actually operated PWRs like it before, and even then they’d want several WEEKS of prep-time studying just to begin attempting it carefully.

          Then you have to get it back to the shipyard, which your terrorist organization DOESN’T have, all the while dodging the US Navy, British Navy, etc. who’ve had time to circumnavigate the globe by the time you got the sucker moving again.

          Seriously. Those closure heads aren’t just welded on. “Nuclear proliferation” is absolutely the last argument to make regarding this subject.

          1. @david McFarland

            This post is so far the one I agree with most. The risks people are talking about would be more of a factor on nuclear power plant ships, like New York City already uses.

        5. “It would proliferate nuclear material a lot too, right now all uses of nuclear material have good security. Whereas cargo ships are not run very securely and visit questionable countries. No, you can’t use this material to make a fission bomb. But you can use it to make a dirty bomb.”

          Hoo boy, piracy would become a MAJOR terrorist activity when you factor in your concern.

        6. > « A meltdown in NY city harbour would hardly be trivial. »

          I think the point is it wouldn’t melt-down…

          If you drop it to the bottom of the sea, it magically gets plenty of cooling it normally wouldn’t in a “normal” power plant situation where it’s surrounded by air or concrete.

          Here it’d be surrounded by very cold water, with heating making that water circulate, so I would expect (with minimal worry put into the actual design to make sure this happens) it would be self-cooling enough that a melt-down would not be possible.

        1. Let me know when a Somali Pirate can figure out how to operate a PWR to be able to move the ship anywhere.

          It would take me days or weeks to figure it out, and I’ve operated PWRs before. Things would similar for me. Somali pirates wouldn’t have a clue what they were looking at.

          That’s just basic level stuff, too. It takes months to actually be able to do everything you need to do if you’ve been to schools and operated other plants.

          1. @ Ruby Panther

            Then you’re looking at the plot of a Hollywood B movie from the 1980s, not pirates.

            “What if they discover tug boats?”

            Then that gives time for the US Navy to have a supercarrier spot them, circumnavigate the globe, pull into Singapore because Singapore is awesome, and then still return on time before they get anywhere meaningful – or at least before they can figure out how to pop the closure head at whatever fully functioning nation’s shipyard would be required to do so, which would then have to cut through the deck and build a specialized crane rig just to remove it.

      1. “You don’t have a choice, we’re Main Stream.”

        This doesn’t sound like a winning way to sneak past coast guards in places that have rules against your fleet.

        It doesn’t matter how big and important you say your fleet is, it won’t be allowed in any large countries other than Russia. And even then, most likely only if you build it there.

        People are flat against this, and there is no reasonable counter-argument for the concerns. “Well, I’m not concerned,” is about what the nuclear boosters here are saying. But that doesn’t persuade anybody about anything, or even try.

    2. I can not understand for the life of me why nuclear is so “green”! The amount of fossil fuel burning construction vehicles used in extracting uranium and the devastating impact doing so has on our earth is frightening as well as irresponsible! Nuclear powered vessels is not healthy for our fragile ecosystems. Furthermore, what happens to the fuel cell if either an accident or attack? Dump it into the ocean? Out of sight out of mind philosophy? Ok well that’s what Japan is doing with radioactive water by dumping it into the ocean and contaminating and killing the ocean and all its life! When do you realize that this is a bad idea? When all oxygen giving life dies and we suffocate? When there is no clean water on earth? Or when everything is so mutated? C’mon! We need to stop with this out of sight out of mind mentality! If you can’t see it (radiation), it doesn’t exist? Tell that to the people of Japan and Chernobyl! This is a very bad idea!

      1. People’s fear of anything nuclear is so far out proportion to reality it never ceases to amaze me.

        The type of small reactor you’d use to power a ship for 7 years has nothing in common with a reactor on a naval vessel, which has to supply orders of magnitude more power for over 50 years!

        Properly designed it wouldn’t be possible to melt down and in a worst case scenario with fuel out in the open totally exposed you’d need maybe 3 feet of water to shield you to background levels, a foot to a foot of water to be safe. How many cargo ships operate in less than 3 foot deep water?

        Between this, the anti-science crowd, and the people who think we shouldn’t be spending money exploring space it seems our species must be destined for extinction and rightly so. A fitting epitaph would be “Here lies humanity a species which had multiple ways to save itself yet chose oblivion due to ignorance.”

        1. “People’s fear of anything nuclear is so far out proportion to reality it never ceases to amaze me.”
          Unfortunately terrorists don’t need to be effective, they just need to be terrifying.
          If a group of terrorists announced that they had seized a nuclear reactor, terror would ensue. Job done.
          And, unfortunately, very few of those in power know enough about the subject to react appropriately.
          (I do believe that a PhD in Physics should be a basic pre-requisite for any government position, but seem unable to persuade the world at large of this obvious fact)

      2. Ok, all others reading this other than Froggie. (sorry Froggie, but I don’t want to ‘backfire effect’ you).

        How do we overcome willful ignorance of this nature? Is it just that some people struggle to seek out information about ‘scary’ things? Could it be that they have somehow gotten through life never learning that a scary thing is made much less so when the light is shined upon it? Have they never heard ‘know thy enemy’?

        Any and everyone who has troubled to look closer at Nuclear energy knows what a tragedy of fear, uncertainty and doubt it is. From the dogged insistence on water-cooled reactors (‘better the devil we know…’) to the mass certainty that radiation is evil man-made treachery perpetrated by evil men as obviously Everyone Knows that Man is Fundamentally Evil. (And never mind any actual science, based on strong evidence, to the contrary of all of these mistakes).

        Nuclear Energy – even the rather stupid design that blew up in Chernobyl – causes so much less disease and environmental damage, even in it’s stupid, enriched-U water-pressure-bomb form, and even *INCLUDING* all the mishaps and rushed-development, skip-the-safety foolishness caused by trying to meet guessed ideas of time-frames whilst working on the very first efforts of various reactor designs. (practise makes perfect – perhaps you know this? Less well known ‘Perfection Demands Practise!’ – you should NEVER expect to do anything right the first try, and if you think you are somehow someone special who can – you’re only the kind of person who thinks they can’t afford ownership of their own mistakes – you’re only fooling yourself.

        Yes, even the crappy, relatively expensive (even in terms of ‘tonnes of earth moved per delivered kWh’ cost) ‘version 1.0’ nuclear that we basically have, is still far more rational a bet of continuing on as we are.

        And no, solar and wind power aren’t going to substitute. You’ll note every solar power thing ever is rated by ‘peak power, assuming clear skies and midday’ as if it could ever keep that up for more than a few percent of all time. When you average it back down, to compare it to, say, a Diesel generator – it’s not nearly so good. Once you have to factor in energy storage losses, it gets even worse. Once you also factor in the cost of all that steel and concrete you need per installed real delivered energy base, it starts to look increasingly foolish.

        Yes, you could put panels on you house and think ‘I’m doing my part!’ But are you? No. Sorry. If you buy *anything*, *ever* you are benefitting from many times your personal direct energy consumption embodied in all the goods you buy. Even simple things like garden tools, clothes etc. Hell, the fresh veggies you buy probably had to be transported in refrigerated vehicles fueled, most likely, by Diesel.

        I also recently pondered on the line “Growing up is not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of wait-and-see”. Actually. no it isn’t. I’m sure we could all imagine just what an old, white man, born into billions, might be like now as an individual who was able to avoid ever actually growing up. It only takes a single counter-example.

        Perhaps things would actually be better if one’s physical age could be controlled, such that you get to be visibly ‘grown up’ (at least to peak condition, because if you can do that, then why be aged?) when you demonstrate that you actually *have*.

        To my mind, the most responsible people in the world are engineers*. They know where real power comes from – it comes from facing up to the truth, and learning to acquire correct knowledge and understanding of the world. You can only do this by making mistakes, owning them, and learning from them.

        (* perhaps medical Dr’s too, but those are really just ‘medicine engineers’. Lawyers? No – if you are smart enough to understand laws, you are more than smart enough to understand mathematics and physics, and to realise you could be doing productive good there, rather than just ‘repairing bads’ at best. Scientists? Really same as engineers, and to the extent their work happens to impact the world in a positive way, they fall into my definition of ‘engineer’ anyway. Else not as they’re clearly motivated not by improving the world, but by improving their own social capital. Defense personnel? Yes – they’re actually also engineers, or else they at least ‘work for a living’ under the orders of those who are. And I’d include nurses, firemen, maintenance workers and builders under that category also. )

        We already demand that only adults have the vote, but perhaps our real problem is automatically granting adulthood based only on survival. Sure, once, long ago, that might have worked – but not in any ‘civil’ society. It’s just asking for man-childs elected by man-children to come into power. (Even his supporters say “He could have handled that better…”, and I think that sums that up rather well ).

        Scarily enough – the ultimate control on all belief is, it turns out, society. We’re social animals, and we’re pre-programmed to go with the majority view, whatever that is, no matter our individual intelligence. Hell, the very definition of the meaning of these hashes we call ‘words’ is so decided by collective common use. So we naturally all agree that democracy is all fine and dandy. We have rule of law – or we should – but perhaps what we really ache for is ‘rule of science’?

        There shouldn’t actually be a need for ‘leadership’ to make decisions, because the basic old scientific process – by which I mean: 1) Make observations, take calibrated accurate measures 2) Record them 3) analyse the recorded data, not your recollections. Well, it works. And if it doesn’t, (or can’t) then one works on the basis of addressing possible hazards based on risk, and other experiments to plumb the depths of each new hazard.

        So that all policy is made erring centrally, not biased ‘on the safe side’ so as not to erode public trust by mandating ludicrous and unrealistic limits, nor drowning all the common people under a massive mass of explicit, precise, ‘programming language’ law – which noone has time to fully read anyway. One must pick one’s battles – people do not naturally comply with law – they cannot comply with something they do not know, however it appears – it’s just that statistically, science says that in contradiction to almost all older religious texts: People are, on average, good. Everyone just trying to get along, more often than not – looks like lawful compliance, but people who therefore dedicate their life to a legal system are mistaken if they think that this proves laws make society work.

        So, in the absence of a better way do to, well, everything, we’re left with what we’ve ended up with for historical reasons. Including a lot of people so certain of the whole ‘mankind = evil, nature = good’ idiocy that they cannot see that humanity is an integrated part of the living biosphere on this one little blue-green dot. Those others who believe that for there to be winners, there necessarily must be losers and it’s a dog-eat-dog world, with no well-defined meaning to ‘good’, are also mistaken, and for the same reason as we can actually calculate entropy.

        All we’ve really got left to ‘fight’ is fear, ignorance, doubt and superstition. We’re all fighting for survival, and cooperation really does work far better than competition. But that doesn’t mean one can avoid the need to prepare for war to safeguard peace. Maybe we have erred also in ‘outsourcing’ that responsibility from the population at large the way most populations have.

        Safe in the ‘womb’ of western, ‘nanny-state’ civilisation, it’s no wonder there are so many otherwise educated people why cry ‘WHEN WILL THEY LEARN’ when, as always, it’s instructive to apply their criticism first onto themselves.

        So, you’re afraid of the nuclear. When will you learn?

        1. “When will you learn?”

          The ebil gubermint exists because your neighbors actually want it. If you’re waiting for that to change, you’re in for a long wait.

          When your neighbors vote, that isn’t just something random they “ended up with.” You can’t make it so just by looking down on them harder.

      3. Good questions, Froggie!

        The IPCC has done studies on this and shows that, despite all of the construction vehicles, mining vehicles, etc. Nuclear Power actually has a lifetime emission of CO2 that is on par with Wind Power, and is roughly 4x better than Solar. Future nuclear plants would be even more reliable with fewer outages, so their numbers would keep dropping. Unfortunately, as much as I like renewables, most of them are built in ideal locations, so any improved efficiency of future plants is negated by the ever decreasing amounts of ideal locations. America , for one, has few left and many companies are turning to aircraft manufacturers to dream up new wind-kites to access the winds higher up.

        Nuclear really is one of the best options when it comes to considering all streams of CO2 generation.

        Here’s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report: (It’s a pdf, you’re looking for the chart on the 7th page down, page number is 1335) Far right column shows the lowest, average, and highest.

        Keep in mind this also includes much older plants that were built when the construction vehicles and mining equipment were dirtier.

        Other reports from the IPCC Showing how critical Nuclear is: (this is an article that includes links to the report and summarizes them)

        They straight up say that nuclear is NECESSARY. Though some people in the IPCC don’t agree on grounds of nuclear proliferation fears as if we were still living in the 1980s, when it comes to solving the climate, the group states that it’s clean and necessary.

        “Devastating Impact [of Fukushima]?” Says who?
        The WHOI disagrees.:
        Actual studies show that radioactivity levels of the oceans have only increased by 0.3bq/cubic meter to 6bq per cubic meter of water once you get outside of a few miles from Fukushima Daiichi. The oceans naturally have 10,000bq to 12,000bq of K-40 per cubic meter of water. Fukushima added 0.3bq to 6bq for the same volume. Anti-Nuclear Fearmongers don’t want you to know the numbers. They almost never give you the numbers or context.

        This also totally disregards that the things that plagued Fukushima Daiichi don’t really apply to maritime reactors.

        “Killing ocean life…” These claims have been proven false since just a month after the first time people started claiming it. Don’t take my word for it, trust Marine Biologists.

        As for the water being dumped now, numerous studies show it’s not a threat: (Yes, I know it’s facebook but they give a number of sources there).

        “Tell that to the people of Japan!”
        Um, okay, here it goes:
        Current me: “Hey, Me in 2011, Fukushima is an overblown accident that the mainstream media and fearmongers don’t understand and you’re not getting that much radiation exposure from it.”
        Me, in 2011, holding a GM counter to measure contamination levels from the Fukushima plumes: “Uh… yeah dude, I know.”

        Yeah. I might have some firsthand experience from this. It’s pretty easy for me to spot when news groups and bloggers are lying. “Hey, that doesn’t look like the data I gathered, they’re making it up!”

    3. I’m a big advocate of nuclear power but don’t like the idea of this.
      What happens when one of them goes near the Horn of Africa and gets captured by pirates?
      What happens when Iran sinks (or boards) one in the Persian Gulf?

      Also, with a land based reactor or military vessel, the entity that owns it when built will own it forever, or close to, and furthermore has responsibility for it.

      Not so with a civilian ship, it’s easy to imagine a reactor that hasn’t been maintained well getting a little cleaned up by an unscrupulous owner and sold on to someone who doesn’t realise that they are sitting on a giant radiation risk. And ultimately the owner will be a limited liability company, protected from the full consequences of what they’ve unleashed.

      Ironically, on land, where we should be transitioning to nuclear as fast as possible, people are too hesitant. But at sea, where there is a good case for just sticking to fossil fuels, this could take off.

      1. What happens when someone boards it?

        They sit there and stare are the Reactor Plant Control Console trying to figure out what the heck they got themselves into because there is no way in hell they’re going to figure out how to start it up and get the thing moving.

        What if they destroy it? Evidence shows that because of how small these reactors are, there really isn’t a concern. Apart from “the solution to pollution is dilution,” that is, if you literally ground up the entire reactor into dust and released it into the oceans, the oceans are so vast that it wouldn’t remotely compare to the 12,000bq of naturally occurring potassium in the oceans. I just did the math for a group worried about the tritium TEPCO could release (if they dumped their tanks right now before filtration, they’d see something like an increase of 0.00000013bq per cubic meter of water if the release was confined to the Pacific).

        Even ignoring that, as local effects could theoretically still be high (though, just a two-kilometer radius makes the concentration drop astronomically enough I actually laughed out loud when I did the math) maritime reactors are small. They get a nice benefit: They’re hellishly hard to meltdown. Ever seen one right after shutdown? You have to fight to keep them warm. If you’re trying to train on constant start-ups and shutdowns, it’s incredibly annoying how much heat you have to add once the uranium stops doing to heavy lifting for you. The reason, unlike big boys like the Fukushima reactors, is that they have a very favorable surface area to volume ratio. Now add them being literally surrounded by water. Many such reactors can already be passively cooled quite easily just by a few small pipes and tanks, let alone a literal ocean.

        But what if they want to turn it into a dirty bomb?

        Good luck getting the closure head off without getting it to a fully functioning and specially equipped shipyard first.

  1. I’m also often reminded of the company American Superconductor (AMSC) which worked with the U.S. Navy on specialty propulsion motors made with superconducting wire that required temps to be ~liquid nitrogen level cold in order to achieve their superconducting performance. I think in a commercial shipping context if you not only went nuclear power but added in smaller/higher performance superconducting electric motors and cables, you might be able to get away with a smaller nuclear reactor as electric losses in the system and performance of the motor would be greater than current/existing electric motors for ship propulsion. Still waiting for the superconducting revolution to hit even now with most recent advances in higher temps in superconductors.

    1. The shipping industry is moving to combined fuel/electric designs, where the propulsion is via electric motor, powered by an electric generator run by something else. While in theory this could be a nuclear reactor, there are better options. However little power you need out of it, you will still need some form of protective vessel, etc.

      Also the industry does not generally like building new ships, but upgrade older ones. It would make a major redesign to put a nuke on a ship. My company on the other hand has been working on hydrogen fuel cells which can be just bolted on deck

    2. Superconductors in an electric motor, will take it from 97% efficiency(Like Tesla’s permanent magnet motors) to maybe 98-99%. Not a whole lot when considering the power-requirements, but the heating of the motor will go way down, so you might be able to make the motor a lot smaller in comparison, which will be important in things like a car, submarine or a warhead, but in container-ships, size and weight of the electric motor is not really a problem as they are today.
      But yeah, high-temperature super-conductors is a very interesting field! It will make a huge difference in how the electric grid is designed and operated, and how our electricity is billed, since power loss over distance will decrease to basically zero from the ~5% transmission-losses we have today.

      1. Yeah, but the size of the cooling system more than takes up the difference in motor mass.

        You’re basically building a huge cascaded refrigerator with massive heat exhchangers to keep the motor to cryogenic temperatures, plus all the insulation around the motor to keep your liquid nitrogen from boiling off so fast. All that complexity negates the advantages.

      2. > since power loss over distance will decrease to basically zero

        Notice that superconductors don’t work with AC power. They exhibit an extremely strong skin effect where time varying currents no longer travel through the entire cross section, and if you exceed a critical current density at the portions where the current does travel, you lose the superconductivity. In other words, if you cause a large enough load variation to a superconducting cable, it stops being a superconductor and turns into a big resistor, which then makes the problem even worse because it flashes hot and might explode from the pressure of the evaporating coolant.

        It means the current must be DC, and it must be very steady with slow on/off ramps or else you risk destroying the cable.

        1. There are of course ways of making superconducting cables that exhibit low AC losses, such as by braiding the wire in certain ways – but this is mad expensive, especially since the superconducting materials tend to be brittle, and it still doesn’t entirely eliminate the issue.

    1. Forget the pieces, wonder how much security one of these things will really have? Enough to counter a large group of motorboats with automatic rifles and RPGs? Only would be a matter of time before somebody tries to 9/11 a port by trying to reef one of these and crack the reactor shielding somehow. Nobody’s gonna hijack a nuclear submarine or aircraft carrier, but container ships get taken all the time. I’m sure they’ll say they’ve come up with some kind of “foolproof” security innovation, but so did the Titanic.

      1. How many more 9/11’s have there been? Something like what you suggested might be attempted, maybe, once. But it’s unlikely to succeed even the first time. Reactor vessels are immensely strong, far stronger than the boat they’ll be in. If you tried to blow a hole in the vessel, you’d likely just blow a hole in the ship.
        Whether or not an attack like would be probable, wouldn’t change whether nuclear ships would be used, only how they’d be used. If the potential of an attack was considered serious enough, then that threat would be mitigated. Either by having to have additional security measures and personnel, or by moving ports off shore, away from populated areas.
        If there is a significant financial benefit to nuclear propulsion, nothing will stop it. Money drives all things.

    2. Yeah, although container ship jacking hasn’t been a thing yet, I can imagine a scenario where a nuclear powered vessel is in the port of Los Angeles and taken over to be used as a dirty bomb. Sounds like a tom clancy novel.

    3. One of many other problems with atomic reactors still not mastered:

      ☢️Chernobyl and Fukushima

      ☢️Will Philppino deckhands be able to service a nuclear reactor without accident?

      ☢️How will the regulations for cargo vessel under liberian and other el-cheapo-flags look like?

      ☢️One accident with a nuclear cargo ship will make the Exxon-Valdez catastrophe look like some benign minor incident.

      While it is interesting to explore options, the article lacks any critical thinking at all as to how practical it might be to have poorly supervised potential atomic meltdowns sail the high seas by the thousands.

      1. It wouldn’t just be meltdowns on the high seas, though that would probably happen accidentally and be a huge ecological disaster. It would also be the issue of: what if you were a political extremist and suddenly had the ability to not only trigger three-mile island, but to trigger it anywhere of your choice as long as it has access to the coast? Probably the navy would try to sink it before it got near any coast, then send a submersible salvage team to try and get the reactor out before it breaches down there. Kind of like the Kursk. Which is not an easy job.

      2. The lesson of Chernobyl and Fukushima isn’t that nuclear power is dangerous, it’s that shitty reactor designs made huge are dangerous.

        Smaller plants are safer because their decay heat is far lower, which is easier to manage passively, which means LOCAs are not a thing.

        Marine nukes are more like a few dozen MW instead of a couple of GW.

      3. That you put Chernobyl and Fukushima in the same sentence, shows your ignorance on the subject. They aren’t comparable with each other, let alone a ship sized modular reactor.

        A small modular reactor is just a heat source. A diesel engine is much more complicated and harder to maintain.

        Even if we took every single container ship in existence today, and converted it to nuclear, and the forced a meltdown on every one of them, you’d barely be able measure the difference in radioactivity from the background levels.
        If a ship had a meltdown, it would very likely sink, taking the reactor to the sea bed. Engulfed with water, it would just sit there gently irradiating the water and heating the sea bed.
        There’d likely be a significant amount of extra seal life living around it after a number of years, just like around volcanic sea vents.
        Whilst getting too close to a radioactive source can kill you, water is immensely good at absorbing that energy. That’s why it’s used as a coolant in nuclear reactors. Having a reactor at the bottom of the ocean, is the very best place for it. Better than having it on land.

        And anyway, reactor meltdowns are not easy things to initiate. You have to have a reactor that can even do that for starters, requiring enough nuclear material to produce enough heat to overload the supply of coolant. Which would be a challenge, given that you’d be sailing on your coolant.
        Additionally, you would need to disable practically every safety measure built into the reactor.
        You literally couldn’t accidentally have a meltdown. It would have to be very deliberate.

      4. No one has yet responded to all your points so I will:

        Chernobyl and Fukushima: not related at all, and neither is relevant to shipboard reactors.

        Philippino deck hands: seems like a weird way to insult the Philippines. Others have pointed out you’d need qualified nuclear operators, which would be expensive whether they’re from the Philippines or elsewhere.

        Liberian and el-cheapo-flags: I don’t see how a vessel would be allowed to register at a port in a country not similarly allowed by international agreement to develop nuclear power. You’d have to register where such is legal.

        One accident: I don’t think you’re right, at least not with sane reactor designs. Even if you could get a reactor to completely melt down, the radiation would be absorbed by the water and wouldn’t go far. Unless you use molten salt, fuel isn’t very soluble in water and would probably just hang out on the ocean floor and hurt no one. Probably not even many fish.

        I’ll also point out that not that many people died as a result of Fukushima, and the amount of fuel present there was much much greater than what would be needed for a ship.

        I don’t think the point of the article was to be a deep dive into the regulatory and international political issues surrounding nuclear powered shipping vessels. This is hackaday after all, so the article naturally focused on the technological aspects.

        Also in case you missed it, “pieces of U238” was a play on words about pirates and “pieces of eight.” I liked it.

      5. “Problems still not mastered:”
        Chernobyl: Um… what? Why would anyone be building more RBMKs? Most of the world mastered “Not-Having-A-Chernobyl-Incident” when they looked at the plans for Chernobyl, before it had an accident, and said “Wait, why do you have no containment and a positive-temperature-coefficient of reactivity? Are you freaking stupid?”

        Fukushima: Let’s start counting the deathtoll. Let me know when you hit “One.”
        Apart from that, that’s a BWR, dude. A maritime PWR is small enough that we’ve figured out Natural Circulation cooling that would be adequate for it. Fair chance that we knew how to do that on this size of reactor since before you were born. Not sure how old you are, but I’ve got 11+ years of nuclear experience and it was before *I* was born, at least.

        Filipino Deckhands: What makes you think they wouldn’t go to special schools like literally everyone else who services a reactor?

        Regulations for Foreign Nations: Probably a new division of WANO or the IAEA. Maybe an offshoot of INPO. If nothing else, all of the above groups would be involved. Not in the least, their Insurance Agencies act as a regulatory group all on their own. If you don’t think they’d be critical of the operations, then just read the following note you made about “accident.” The insurance agency not only has thought of that, but hired experts to figure out how bad it could be.

        One Accident: This largely depends on how the reactor is made. If you’re going with a GEH, Westinghouse, Bechtel, Rolls-Royce, NuScale, or other designs that would be likely candidates, the issue wouldn’t be the actual radioactive fallout. It would be the political and media fallout. Just look at Fukushima. Less than a dozen people actually got enough radiation exposure to have an increased risk of cancer. Not radiation sickness, not melting off skin, not going-to-die-in-a-year. Just an *increased risk of cancer*. Literally the first and lowest measurable effect of too-much-exposure and they barely got that. And you’d never know it, the way the media portrays things. Where I was, taking measurements in Tokyo Bay, our radiation levels never even reached Global Average Background. We usually saw 50% of GAB radiation levels, during Fukushima plumes, they hit ~70%. I was in-country and my friends back home in America who were freaking out for my safety were getting more radiation exposure than I was, because they actually got decent amounts of radon.

        Fukushima was really not that bad as far as ACTUAL damage or danger, and it was worse than any maritime accident would be. Most of the issues come back to the uneducated people freaking out about the littlest things. “Hey, this water went through the reactor. It’s now so clean it would actually lower the salinity of the seawater it touched. It still has some tritium…”
        “…. it’s less radioactive than beer.”

        1. 2 questions:
          Are you using your actual name?

          I ask because of the second question:

          Would you mind if I were to propagate the F*ck out of the following quote, in a completely not-for-profit manner? Just because if the province that I live in would allow nuclear reactors there would not be a completely politically driven giant earthworks hydroelectric dam being constructed at mounting costs at precisely the worst possible spot in terms of knocking the ecological cornerstone out from a few hundred thousand square kilometers of land, on land that HAS no actual bedrock, on top of a fault line, and (etc, for about 2500 more words, crime, ethics, greed, corruption, Bilderbergs, captured state, the usual background for a mega-project)

          “Fukushima was really not that bad as far as ACTUAL damage or danger, and it was worse than any maritime accident would be. Most of the issues come back to the uneducated people freaking out about the littlest things. “Hey, this water went through the reactor. It’s now so clean it would actually lower the salinity of the seawater it touched. It still has some tritium…”
          “…. it’s less radioactive than beer.”

          Sooo good….

    4. How many really big container ships got taken by pirates? we are talking about things in Emma Maersk class twice the size of Nimitz not the smaller ones doing more dangerous routes, but ones that run on fixed routes on fixed timetables. And if people are scared by waste just use Thorium and Liquid Salts reactors then if anything happens that reactor looses cooling it just molts plug drains into containment where it solidifies and you can’t make a bomb out of thorium.

    5. In order to get the fuel out of a naval type reactor, such as currently used in US Navy subs, you have to remove the whole reactor first. No amateur could do this. They would be dead of radiation poisoning before the got very far.

    6. *Somali pirates finally figure out how to get into the RC*
      *climb up to Upper Level and start looking at the bolts*
      “Uh…. guys… did any of you bring… like, a whole freaking shipyard with you?”
      *Somali pirates totally forgot that special measures are taken to ensure that the reactor can withstand several thousand psig*

  2. Of course, the Windjammers were nuclear powered too, by a remote fusion reactor.
    I seem to recall a proposal many years ago to retrofit robot-controlled power kites to existing cargo ships.
    But there are already completely automated square-rigged sailing vessels which eliminate the requirement for jolly jack tars to climb the rigging in all weathers and the associated H&S nightmare. [1]

    As a fan of both nuclear power (as a way out of the carbon economy that already works) and of sailing ships I am rather torn between the two options.

    [1] and

      1. Why sails only? wind generators, solar panels and a few Tesla batteries, maybe a telescopic sail array for when those fail. Give Elon a shout I’m sure he already has someone on it. Sure aren’t the boats out to Alcatraz electric Genny powered and assisted by wind generators? Cargo ships have containers on the deck but swap that big ol’ engine for batteries 1/4 the size and heap a load of solar panels on there and I’m sure it’ll (slowly) keep it going.

        1. It will keep going, sure, but the speed will be useless. Emma Maersk is roughly 400 meters long and 50 meters wide. Assuming 200 watts pr square-meter, that will generate 4 MW of energy best-case (Meaning closer to equator than the poles, mid-day and no clouds), but the engine on Emma Maersk generates 109.000 hp, or roughly 80 MW. Of course cruising power will be lower, but not 20 times lower.
          And when considering the average-output of a solar panel during all hours of the day, all days of the year, the average output is closer to 40 watts pr square-meter.

          Interesting idea, but sadly is just as infeasable as solar-panels on the roof of semi-trucks

          1. Yeah I was waiting for someone to suggest solar power. You think boats from China are slow now… wait til they can only move in daylight.

            You could expand the surface area with trailing panels behind the boat for maximum cruising speed, but the surface area needed is enormous, and to my knowledge solar has never been cost effective without government subsidies.

            Not to mention the environmental nightmare of toxic heavy metals that would be dumped in the ocean if the ship capsized. And even if it doesn’t, you still have to dispose of all that and buy new panels every once in a while.

          2. @Grey Pilgrim: Solar kann be quite cost effective per kWh produced. But storage is expensive and limited. And because of limited surface area solar on a vehicle is not very useful – as you say.
            But there are not really toxic heavy metals involved. Solar panels are mostly silico, aluminium (frames) and glass. Lithium batteries also do not contain toxic heavy metals

          3. You’re right that cost of solar per kWh is going down, and is approaching being cost-competitive with other sources in the USA [1].

            But that is actually sort of problematic (or at least it makes the problem worse) because the construction and toxic metals (lead and cadmium mostly—not in large amounts, but enough to be a concern and make recycling costly) that are used in PV panels (yes they are) make recycling them cost more than they’re worth [2]. Add in the cost of recycling and it’s no longer cost effective compared to others [3]. They’re learning that lesson in Europe, along with similar lessons on wind turbines made of fiberglass that can’t be recycled [4].

            I guess my point is that solar isn’t really any cleaner than anything else. Wind and solar *feel* clean, and nuclear *feels* dirty and dangerous—which is unfortunate because people act on emotions instead of facts and reason.


      1. Even unstayed masts and spars would make loading the vessel more difficult, it has to be admitted, and thie deck cargo must add a lot of windage. The mast height required would mean that the ships would need an enormous draught to be stable enough to stay sails-side up too. It would be a massive re-design of the ships _and_ the supporting infrastructure.
        But the idea of power kites flying from cables fastened at the bow might have some merit, though only for down-wind-ish conditions. It could augment other motive power sources, but not replace. On the plus side, it doesn’t require very much redesign of the ships.

      2. Yeah. This is gonna be a big problem. EXTREMELY non-trivial. Sailing ships never got anywhere remotely so large, and they were kind of topping out where they were. Handling a galleon in a storm was a death sentence a good percentage of the time. Handling a megatanker with sails and a keel the size of a small mountain in a storm would just be pure nightmare. Would be incredibly fucking metal, though. I’d want to get a look at the Ahab who would go down with that ship.

        Luckily there are other ways to make use of the remote fusion reactor, though.

  3. May be I’m wrong but if we consider that shipping companies do not always maintain their ships well, we can also wonder about safety. Currently, only military ships use nuclear propulsion and it is quite easy to control who does what. And they usually are ready to invest money in high cost equipment in order to recover sunk ships (or at least the nuclear part). How will it be if many ships sail the seas with highly toxic products in their holds? Will the shipping companies try to recover sunk ships in the middle of the sea?
    Where will the back product be stocked after a refill?
    The low shipping cost is a short-sighted reasoning. Back products need to be processed and stocked. That’s not free.

    1. Ships are already sailing the seas with highly toxic products in their holds. I don’t (only) mean that as a sarcastic comment about oil, they are literally carrying toxic products around.

    2. Yeah, this would be an utter non-starter unless we nationalized the shipping industry under the military. Maybe we could make the reactor room on its own a piece of US military jurisdiction, armor it like a bank vault, and then each ship would have to rent a secondary crew of navy seamen to stand by the reactor and a barracks of marines to light up anybody (even the ship’s own primary crew) who tried to get anywhere near it. That would barely be the level of seriousness needed.

      I think in the animated show Last Exile they had a bunch of airships which were driven by this mysterious engine that were all owned by a technologically advanced society and basically only rented to nation-states to build warships around. The engines were in their own armored rooms, cordoned off from the rest of the ship, and had their own crew and engineering staff. If the people who owned the drives didn’t like what one nation’s navy was doing, they’d simply recall the engines and they’d tear through the bulkheads of the warships build around them, sending the rest of it and all hands plummeting to the ground to die, while the engine itself would simply fly home. I’d imagine something like that for securing a nuclear reactor under private ownership. Still an insane idea IMO.

      1. This is a very US centric point of view. Other (sometimes even more) civilized countries exist in the world. But of course a restriction to e.g. state owned or otherwise specially certified operators with permits and regular inspections are necessary.

  4. I think it was Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge that casually mentioned semi-autonomous solar-powered freighters as normal in that reality. (Though it may have been in Robert Sawyer’s Hominid series). At first glance it’s a stupid idea (slow, don’t run at night, limited to equatorial or summertime runs, more susceptible to storm damage, huge surface area complicates port operations), but it could actually work.

  5. If the cost is cheaper, solar & sail could be used for the very big ships used in the long runs, and then smaller ships, using whichever propulsion is possible in that regioin, could ferry the cargo from those big ships to the ports.

    Somehow, like a spaceship doing the run from Earth to Moon orbits, but without ever landing.

    1. A little math re: solar

      Figure a medium vessel today is roughly 33m wide and 300m long (for example, the 2006 launched Maersk Ohio, at 66000HP or 50000KW) It is a pretty efficient vessel, as it must be to make money. Maersk has about a dozen tot he same plan. These may cruise at 75% power for days straight, just purring along.

      Treat it as rectangular from the top

      The area is just under 10000m^2

      Cover this with PV panels. At solar noon in the equatorial regions, the insolation would be about 10000KW (roughly 1KW/m^2), and the net would be about 2500KW, or 5% of the diesel engine in the vessel. Peak. Daily net averages maybe 1/4 this.

      There is a reason that engine is the size of good-sized building. It takes a lot of force to push even a fairly efficient hull through the water. That is why they build them big and build them long. Big as the cargo scales by the cube law, and drag by the square, for a given hull profile. The drag goes down with the length to beam aspect (longer is better). But to reach the point where the area available for PV is even in the same magnitude as the required power would require a vessel so large as to be unuseful.

    2. Sail? 400m 200,000 DWT ship with flat bottom and over 70m height? How much height of sails you’d need? how big of a keel to not top it? What port could handle that? It would have to go around the Cape Horn and Cape of good hope because neither Suez nor Panama could handle that. People don’t realise the scale of those ships.
      Then there are winds yes there are high latitudes where wind is almost constant but it means rough seas where you don’t want to have 20 thosuands containers top heavy ship, so you stay away from that but then your time tables get f*ed because hey modern ships sail to tight schedule where any delay ends up costing big piles of money sometimes size of 3rd world country budget or more.

        1. 200 million trips a year (google estimate)

          5-10 crew per ship (estimate)

          2 containers per ship (assumption)

          100 million trips, assume 4 sailings average (3 months EU-China is the assumption)

          25 million ships, 125-250 million crew. Double that for 3 months on/ 3 months off.

          If you push up to 10 sailings a year,

          10 million ships, 50-100 million crew, doubled for on/off rotations.

          Best case, you need the population of the UK to crew that.

  6. I’d really like to see two things added to this article:
    Most importantly: FUEL COST. My understanding is that the actual fuel costs are mostly a wash when you compare fossil fuels to nuclear power. Nuclear fuel is REALLY expensive, so it’s a good thing ships using it only need to be refueled every few years. I’d love to have some more solid data on that. Also, is there enough capacity for fuel production to support changing the cargo fleet over?

    The other thing that is completely missing from this article is a discussion the necessary infrastructure for refueling and disposal of fuel. Last I checked, there is no place for us to permanently and safely dispose of used fuel. I would also like to have an idea of the fleet size that could be served by existing refueling facilities, and how many new facilities we’d need to construct to service the desired fleet size.

    1. Now that my interest has been piqued, I did some searching, and found this article:

      It suggests that the lifecycle costs for a nuclear-powered carrier are approximately 34% higher than a comparable conventionally-fueled carrier.

      Unless something happens that brings that number down towards zero, I have a hard time imagining that the shipping industry will be interested in switching to nuclear power at all.

      1. Something is happening its called carbon tax and other similar solutions that Paris agreement countries are thinking of. It will drive carbon prices up. Idk how much up well see but expect changes

      2. Depends on how you run it and hullform.

        Recent studies on CGX (or, CGNX) suggested it was better to stuff an A1B into a cruiser hull, but for the LHA project that became the America-class, it wasn’t.

        Larger ships tend to profit more from nuclear reactors, which is part of the reason why the Nimitz and Ford class use them.
        I don’t have sources because, though the information itself wasn’t classified, the Navy rather didn’t like the prospect of us plugging flashdrives into Confidential-networks.

        This may not be the case for cargo-ships, as unlike Carriers, they aren’t staying out at sea, they’re constantly hitting port after port after port. Profit would likely be in speed and increased storage. Nuclear operators tend to be much more safety oriented as well, and more prone to having integrity in maintenance and operations, so equipment reliability would also get a nice boost. Western Nuclear Power is very fixated on Safety Culture.

    1. The big concern with nuke ships is who will be maintaining the reactors. On Navy ships it’s done by very highly trained and vetted sailors anything else would not be acceptable.

      Do I think the shipping concerns are going to pay the money to hire top talent and also keep a security team on the boat as well? No.

      1. Just because that’s what the military does doesn’t mean that’s what’s necessary. Military vets everyone, and the people who maintain military equipment are highly trained, that’s standard.
        Anyway ISIS could target an oil tanker now and cause far more environmental damage than a small, low yield reactor ever would. They don’t though, because it’s not terrifying.

      2. Sorry Zerg, but this doesn’t make sense to me. Why would Civilian Shipping be anything less than Commercial Nuclear? Commercial Nuclear is actually more regulated and tougher than Navy Nuclear. Navy Nuclear Operators regularly have tough times when they decide to go to civilian nuclear. They might fair better than those who didn’t go Navy, but Civilian Nuclear is no walk in the park. Trust me. I’ve operated Navy reactors, taught at Navy nuclear schools, and now I teach at a civilian reactor plant.

        Why would shipping-nuclear be any different? What’s more, they’re not just going to be subject to the same regulatory agencies, but MORE of the regulatory agencies when they want to pull into different companies.

        Do I think shipping companies are going to pay the money to hire top talent and also keep a security team on the boat as well? Abso-freaking-lutely. If they don’t, they don’t keep their keys to the reactor. The most successful companies take those measures willingly. The ones who don’t at least comply begrudgingly don’t get to have fun with fission.

  7. Did you never see a documentary on how discarded oil tankers and cargo ships are “recycled”? That’s already a environmental and humanitarian disaster. Do we really want to add nuclear material to the mix?

      1. It’s still shocking that you don’t even mention the issue of decommissioning costs.

        Even with dramatic improvements in worker safety and environmental containment, ship breaking doesn’t need to change *that* much. At the end of the day, it’s still just chopping steel into bits, and the most hazardous materials involved are things like old asbestos, toxic paint, and transformer oil. Doing it properly is bound to be a bit more expensive, but not by several orders of magnitude or anything.

        I’m not sure you can say the same for a nuclear vessel. It really is just a completely different scale of problem.

        Look at the trouble the US Navy is having disposing of the Enterprise. It’s probably going to end up being a couple of billion all in — a significant fraction of the cost even of a new aircraft carrier, and the equivalent of something like 30 or 40 brand new container ships.

        And that’s just one little 342m vessel. To be sure, some of that cost is probably novelty (it’s never really been done before, so costs could come down as the industry builds experience) and a military ship’s multiple reactors and redundant systems is probably more difficult and complex to take apart. Even so, it’s never going to be a negligible effort. Decommissioning costs for future behemoth nuclear cargo ships could easily rival (or even dwarf) their initial cost of construction. That’s something any plan to nuclearize the shipping industry needs to reckon with up front.

        1. WIth subs, the navy yanks the whole reactor out and trucks it off to sit in the Washington desert.
          I’m not saying that’s a good or even acceptable way to deal with radioactive waste contaminated reactors, but the navy makes it look like it’s pretty easy.
          If shipping companies bought small modular reactors from, eg, Toshiba, it’s possible they could back the ship up into a dock, lower in the reactor unit via a massive crane, and off they go, and at EOL the manufacturer winches the spent reactor out and, I dunno, probably ships it to Africa so someone can burn it and smelt out the valuable metals.
          USN quotes $25-50M to salvage and scrap a nuke sub.
          The first couple, they simply dropped the entire nuclear reactor in a deep part of the ocean, because that seemed like a great idea to someone. Then the UN said NO MORE DUMPING NUKES IN THE OCEAN so now the fuel rods go to Idaho and the nukes themselves sit at Hanford until someone shoves them into a shallow grave. (“They’ll be fine for 1000 years, don’t worry about it.”)

          1. Yeah, clearly some kind of extremely self-contained, modular, standardized reactor is the *only* way any of this could conceivably work. Preferably something that required little or no maintenance or intervention from the regular ship crews, and, when something goes wrong, would just turn into an inoperable, inert lump until technicians from Toshiba or whoever could be ‘coptered in to fix it (or tow it to a shipyard).

            But, even so…

            USN quotes $25-50M to salvage and scrap a nuke sub.

            Which is a bargain compared to whatever’s going on with the Enterprise, but… there’s still the fact that conventionally-fueled container ships cost less than a hundred million brand new. And practically nothing to decommission when you’re done with one — just offload the valuables and drive ’em up on a beach in Indonesia.

            Now we’re talking about not only new ships that are probably some whole number multiple of a conventional ship’s cost (what with the fancy reactor module and associated systems), but also come with a big new EOL bill that’s almost as much as what the whole damn ship used to be.

            Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s impossible. And certainly we need to do *something* to put oceanic shipping on a more sustainable, erm, keel. But this is undeniably a pretty huge change to the financial structure of the business. Any serious proposal needs to face that head on — overlooking or burying big cost items isn’t helpful.

          2. The nukes sit in Hanford mainly because it’s illegal to recycle the metals. Otherwise they’d be molten down already.

            The neutron activation of e.g. steel produces trace amounts of Chromium-51 with a half-life of 27 days to stable Vanadium. Fe-59 has a half-life of 44 days etc. and when you take the average half-lives of the typical isotopes present, 99.999% of it will be gone in 1-2 years after the reactor shuts down and the metal is perfectly usable to make anything.

          3. The entire point of de-funding and/or banning the recycling, re-processing, transport and disposal of waste materials from the nuclear industry is to MAKE it into a problem, so you can then say “We can’t put this stuff anywhere, therefore we shouldn’t built nuclear reactors”.

            As long as you have that mental image of a glowing nuclear waste pile somewhere in the desert dripping green goo, you have a very convincing propaganda argument against nuclear power, which is why the waste piles must remain untouched.

          4. You can’t complain that decommissioning a nuke correctly is more expensive than dumping a diesel ship. No one knows how much it costs to decommission a container ship properly because no one f#%* does it. They’re all just sold off for plausible deniability, renamed and reflagged, and dumped in Indian shipyards where they get cut up for scrap by workers without basic PPE, who suffer horrifically from the toxins. BBC did a good article on it earlier in the year.

          5. @Dude

            The reactor compartments sitting at Hanford — and the Russian equivalents in Murmansk et al — aren’t composed of just lumps of nice, predictable steel.

            There are exotic alloys, weird corrosion products bonded to the insides of pipes, pockets and puddles of undrained coolant and other liquid waste, etc.

            You’re welcome to volunteer to start blindly chopping into that mess with a cutting torch if you want. I’ll be staying away, thanks.

            While I suppose it’s theoretically possible that some kind of automated facility could be designed to safely cut them apart in a contained area somehow, and then sort the recyclable bits from the hazardous waste, I sincerely doubt the effort would be worth the price of the handful of tons of scrap metal you’d get out of it. There’s a reason burying them in the desert is deemed the best available option.


            It’s definitely fair to say that the industry isn’t currently paying the true costs of breaking up their old ships, yes. But whatever those true costs are, disposing of a nuclear ship involves exactly the same costs PLUS the cost of decommissioning and disposing of one or more fueled nuclear reactors.

            Or, looked at another way, there’re exactly three options aren’t there: less expensive, the same, and more expensive.

            I think the first two seem pretty unlikely, don’t you?

          6. >aren’t composed of just lumps of nice, predictable steel.

            That’s true, but largely irrelevant for the point. The neutron activation products that make the reactor vessels radioactive are very short lived in general, and the radioactivity goes away in a couple years. They can be decontaminated and recycled.

            And most of the reactor IS nice predictable steel. Either austenitic stainless steel, or SA-302, SA-533, SA-508, … etc. low-alloyed NiMoMn ferritic steels. They’re used to permit annealing the metal after it has been welded in place, so you can reverse some of the radiation damage to the grain of the steel and extend the service life of the reactor by decades. You can’t build a nuclear reactor vessel out of very exotic materials exactly because it is exposed to high neutron fluxes that would destroy the microstructure of high strength special alloys and change their properties dramatically. It has to be predictable bog-standard steel so you know it won’t do anything weird like suddenly turn brittle as glass.

          7. The main reason why nobody wants to touch the user reactors:

            >”Lawrence Kavanagh of the American Iron and Steel Institute concurs with his industry colleagues, opposing the proposal and noting that “the possibility that the [Department of Energy] scrap metal could be radioactive would cause panic and confusion among consumers who buy products made of steel.””

            Because of this panic reaction, anything that comes from a nuclear facility into recycling in the US and EU actually has to be less radioactive than the general background level. The radiation safety limits are 30 times lower than for waste coming from other industries, which means that a simple piece of granite you take into a nuclear facility can only come out through nuclear waste disposal, and it would be illegal to e.g. mix it with concrete to build a road. Elsewhere, people make kitchen countertops out of it.

          8. @Dude

            My point was that while steel is most of the mass, it’s not ALL of the mass.

            Most of the radiation hazard in a used reactor compartment isn’t from induced radioactivity in the steel — which is what you’re focusing on — it’s from other residues, lesser in total mass, but more radioactive. Primarily Cobalt-60 stuck in the walls of the piping, but potentially other unpredictably located pockets of yuck too.

            If we just talking about steel, you’d be right. But we’re not.

            And while I’m sure it’s not *impossible* to safely separate the good steel from the nasty stuff, maybe not even especially difficult, it’s probably still just not worth the expense. Have you checked the price per ton for scrap steel lately?

  8. Nuclear subs have not been accident-free. People are still struggling with disposal of spent fuel. This is not actually a viable technology for many reasons. If shipping using sustainable technologies takes 2 weeks longer to get my prison-manufactured Walmart bargains and that costs 5% extra, I’ll take that option.

    1. The struggle was solved ages ago.

      Reprocess until you can’t extract any useful material. Bury the rest deep or in an obvious place that nobody would ever want to go to once clearly marked (personally I think the deepest possible hole is best and once it’s relatively full, fill it with concrete).

      Why aren’t we doing that? Because of the whole not in my back yard bs mentality that people have even for holes miles deep. Also because people are afraid of even the word nuclear, much to the detriment of progress.

      Maybe ship board reactors are a stretch. It might make more sense to find a battery system that can cross the pacific or whatever and use land based nuclear to charge the cargo vessels in port. May not be as efficient but it’s an option.

      1. Here’s a thought, bury it back in the uranium mines that it was mined from. Store it on location until the mine is fully mined out then put the spent fuel in the very bottom and then fill the mine back in. The area already had radioactive material in the soil, putting what you took out back in at a deeper depth wont change the situation.

        1. It doesn’t quite work that way. Naturally occurring uranium is hardly radioactive, locked up in the minerals, and it is diluted in a very large volume. Replacing that with a concentrated lump of highly active waste isn’t going to stay put in a shallow grave.

          On the other hand, deep borehole disposal is invented and isn’t particularly difficult. It just has the NIMBY problem again. You can’t even drill a test hole without protesters showing up to shut you down.

          1. Indeed. Don’t get me wrong, nuclear waste is some dangerous stuff, but once you understand the physics involved you quickly realize that it’s only dangerous if you don’t understand how to handle it and store it incorrectly. Deep borehole as you say is by far the safest option I can think of based on the physics. The only real roadblock is again NIMBY mind sets from the uneducated.

  9. Exactly. In a cut-throat industry, where you register your vessels under whatever flag saves you two cents, where ship owners just “forget” a ship somewhere with 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate [1] [2], just because it doesn’t pay to clean up (they left the crew stranded in Lebanon as well, BTW)…

    In such an industry, if provided with nuclear reactors: what could possibly go wrong?

    I’m somewhat sceptical of nuclear industry in general. Especially I’m not sure it is cost-effective if you factor in the appropriate security measures.

    In this case, though, I’m certain. I don’t want to see nuclear reactors in those hands.


    1. MV rhosus wasn’t big ship. Nucllear powered ships wouldn’t be for any rag tag merchang doing tramp freight but only for the biggest companies MOL, OOCL, Maersk that have ships twice the size of Nimitz that go on fixed routes and time tables where any delay generates costs that would drain budget of small country. Its like saying F1 mechanics do poor maintenance because I’ve seen what my local welder in Alabama did to my uncles truck.

        1. There are ways to do that. Hydrogen and such. The thing is that those impose enough operational constraints that it might make more sense for the big boys to nuclearize. Like the reason the US Navy uses nuclear carriers and submarines but prefers conventional fuels for other ships: it’s not a one-size fits all solution.

          1. >Hydrogen and such

            Yeah… no. Hydrogen is too dangerous, and not dense enough to carry the energy. You need five gallons of liquid hydrogen to equal one gallon of diesel oil. For smaller vessels, this just takes up all their cargo space with the insulated tanks and the refrigeration machinery to keep it from boiling off.

            And the port security would be something else entirely. The shipping port would have to be built like a space launch facility, with an exclusion zone for miles around in case the hydrogen tanks explode.

    2. “… what could go wrong?”

      You’re forgetting how the nuclear industry works.

      The only way you – and that includes the US Navy- avoid having inspection teams boarding your nuclear vessel each time them pull in is to have a nuke program that can operate reliably without anyone being able to question its safety or integrity.

      Nuclear powered vessels would get a lot more scrutiny. Any company that could afford to operate a nuclear powered vessel would have to also be aware of the financial ramifications of operating them poorly.

  10. I’m seeing a lot of people theorize about a combo of solar and sails. I’m sure this is where the Paris agreements dreamland vision came from. Let’s kill that dream right now, we as a society will not be returning to those slower lower weight capacity methods, solar power is a pittance that will not move a container ship. So we are left with some realities

    First. We accept that nuclear is the only way these emmissions will go down without forcing us to revert back to mid 18th century technology.

    Second. Since the Paris agreement has no enforcment mechanisms anyway counries like China and India will continue to increase pollution while we offload the pollutant work to them in an effort to feel like we reduced pollution by simply moving it.

    Stop living in a dream where the solar panel on your roof can move a boat. It can’t. Just look at the energy density.,0.5%20to%2050%20J%2Fm3.

    “solar energy has a density of 1.5 microjoules per cubic meter, over twenty quadrillion times less than oil.”

    1. Why are we obligated to capitulate to market forces? If we mandate slower transportation, slower transportation it is. If other countries don’t comply, we can threaten to declare war on them. Stop pretending force doesn’t work.

      1. “Why are we obligated to capitulate to market forces?”

        We are not. Nor is anyone.

        I also don’t think anyone is pretending force doesn’t work. “Market forces” are forces, in this sense, after all.

        To paraphrase Heinlein, the statement that violence never solved anything is a crock.

        The problem, my friend, is that the solution is most often worse than the problem. It is not capitulating to market forces, so much as understanding what the cost of bucking market forces will be.

        People want their cheap crap. The lowest direct cost will generally win. Mandating slower transport WILL lead to, shall we say, alternative markets. The net result may be worse, as there will be no pressure on these alternatives to stay clean. History has shown that prohibitions don’t work unless there are other controlling factors.

          1. Why don’t we just outlaw all fossil fuels, then? No one would be allowed to use fossil power plants to support manufacturing, no petroleum-based chemicals or materials like plastic, and no petroleum fueled shipping. Then we wouldn’t have to care about speed limits, because there wouldn’t be anything worth shipping overseas and no one would be able to ship it even if there were.

            Or we could just shortcut that and outlaw all overseas shipping. Faster and more effective. Throw in air travel while you’re at it.

            I was looking at this report from 2016 (which is horribly formatted by the way; I think Edward Tufte would have some choice words for whoever thought this may was better than a simple table) and I noticed a lot of other sources of emissions that we could outlaw as well. For example, transportation (this year it was already made illegal for many parts of the world; people were basically captive in their homes), residential power (you could just shut off the power after sundown and I’m sure everyone would just go to bed), commercial power (again, I think most governments have used curfews this year, so definitely possible to cut down business hours—though without cheap crap from around the world, and a customer base limited to those within walking distance, they’ll probably just go out of business anyway), in other words there’s really a lot we could do if we just made a bunch of new laws and then threatened to nuke anybody that didn’t do the same.

          2. @Grey Pilgrim

            I’m glad you understand the power of power. I’m all for it. Anything that reduces our energy usage and forces people to be more self-sufficient is a good thing, IMO.

      2. The “market forces” tend to point towards minimum cost, which is minimum energy and resource use on the whole.

        You can mandate anything you like, but it’s not going to be optimal and therefore you will get unwanted consequences – typically higher prices, which again means greater energy consumption elsewhere in the society, which negates the gains you thought you had.

        1. I don’t think the math works out on this. For example, North Korea mandates quite a lot of things and as a result they use very little power. The market can be overcome, it’s just a matter of having the political will to actually do it.

          1. North Korea isn’t right about anything related to power. They are simply extremely poor and cannot afford to use any. The state exports hydro and coal power to China for money, while the people are literally down to burning sticks and pine cones.

            It’s kinda like how Stalin sold grain to buy technology from the west while the people in Ukraine were starving to death.

          2. @Dude

            So in other words, state-enforced poverty is a potential solution to the climate crisis. Less money = less fuel = less pollution. I’m not entirely opposed to it. Throw in some depopulation incentives (pay dumb people to sterilize themselves?) and it’s a done deal. Again, the only problem is the political will to achieve this.

      3. But how man ypeople really want slower transportation just for the peace of mind of some climate hysterics which happen also to be against nuclear power?
        Not only energy production but life itself always has some environmental impact. If we think that carbon dioxide is so bad, there is no real alternative to including nuclear power into our energy mix.

    2. “solar energy has a density of 1.5 microjoules per cubic meter,”
      Read the fine print: including the volume of space all the way to the source, 150 miillion kilometers up.
      A moronic metric, even by the standards of that spherical-cow paper.

    3. This is not really a smarmy counter, you raise solid points.
      However, this is actually a very exciting conversation, and with the WEF pushing the “Great Reset” plan to be on the docket for their January get-together, it is quite possible that important conceptual advances arising from open discussions in the public theater could influence outcomes of the proposed transition.

      So: Please recall that the oil IS actually just really, really densely concentrated sunlight.

      The needed solutions are most likely to arise not from a number of individual processes, but from integrated whole systems management.

      Many of the issues being brought up indicate the solutions to other issues.

      A primary aspect that has not been brought up prior to this point (I have not read to the bottom) is that a combination of small reactors coupled with high efficiency battery systems would allow for a reserve of power to be topped up at each port of call, to stretch out the working life of the nuclear fuel and mitigate the waste concern.

      Almost definitely the maintenance and security of the reactors and fuel stocks would be best served by having an international paramilitary engineering entity that would be independent of existing corporations or governmental influence, with extremely strict standards.

      Although it would decrease the speed somewhat of cargo vessels, their capacity would be rather high if the cargo were specifically of a mass large enough to act as ballast for travel below the ocean’s surface.

      This would sidestep concerns about storms, and would be difficult for any but the most well resourced of attackers to attempt piracy or hijack (foolish as well, for the hypothetical “Fusion Guild” would ideally pair it’s people, ensure that they had at least small arms and vessel specific training, (plus would have a merciless accounting system for anyone rude enough to bite and who was linked to any specific grouping of people).

      An element that few seem to account for in addition to the many mentioned in this discussion is the predictive capability of our still increasingly powerful IT/nascent AI tech, and the parallel snowballing of mass statistical data points obtained with ever greater resolution and in context of an increasingly lengthy time span.

      Imagine if the methodology used by Cambridge Alanalytica to lever millions of facebook profiles into cementing certain demographics into “angry” mode were used to predict consumer needs and even determine with fair accuracy which were reliable and which likely to be mutable in short time frames.

      Slow, low carbon footprint shipping could be laden with basic goods and resources half a season before the anticipated demands emerged, with tertiary processing being carried out closer to the actual market.

      Immediate gratification luxury items or critically needed supplies could be delivered or the raw materials passed through the appropriate high speed infrastructure to the nearest Fabber/Maker facility.

      I don’t know what the state of the art is on the dream of building a Sky Stalk to low orbital altitude, the material strengths and tensility are a Holy Grail of sorts, but they WILL happen.

      At that point, with relatively low energy costs to boost matter to a height where escape velocity is relatively cheap, progressively more so as more raw minerals (and in the long run hopefully hydrocarbons from the outer planet’s snd the moons of the gas giants) begin coming down the conveyor trains and offsetting the mass ascending; nuclear waste becomes a non-issue.

      With minimal weak AI guidance systems, a payload could safely be launched into a decaying orbit towards the Sun, reacting with minor inertial changes to avoid unanticipated intersections with solid masses.

      And out of all of that, there is the mixed blessing of the Internet Of Things.

      With enough engaged devices within X volume of space, all in communication with each other and one or more core processing arrays, the capability of ssid units to optimize almost any factor beyond out capacity to fully Invision will be very real exponentially so over time.

      It all comes down to what values we bring to the early stages.

      Thst is all just food for thought. As with the specific topic of this thread, nothing exists in isolation, less so as time passes.

    4. Even one small solar panel can move even a huge boat – its actually really quite easy to move a boat, a human can do it by hand in the right situations. Its moving it fast enough it can actually steer and overcome wind/currents that would be the challenge. But if there is onboard energy storage and unloading doesn’t obscure the panels than you have a few days unloading and loading capturing energy, and can hook up to the grids and claim any excess too. Making it a solar augmented battery/fuelcell/compressed air/ electric. And if you look at it from that perspective having a few MW of free power through the day will allow much greater overall transit times than without for almost no cost spread over the lifetime of the hull, and it doesn’t harm the boats ability to sail in anyway – the only challenge is unloading efficiently as top down crane would be out or require the solar cells/cargo bay to move in some way for access…

  11. It seems that wind-powered shipping may be poised to make a comeback: . I really hope this works out – I don’t like the prospect of nukes powering ships. Or anything for that matter. At this point nuclear power is probably a lesser evil than dead dinosaur juice; but it’s still a dangerous short-term solution with significant long-term liabilities. We’d be far better off if we could find safer alternatives.

    1. This bigest sailing ship is not even in the ballpark of what TripleE or other biggest ships are. You need to add one zero to the tonnage and size and physics just kills it. Not to mention with sail instalation even colapsable like this you can’t handle containers normal way with cranes, thats rebuilding every major port in the world. Sail should do comeback but in tramp and feeder roles, in passanger/tourist service, not in major shipping that sails to fixed routes and timetables. Current economy has very limited stocks and everything runs on just-in-time with billions of parts and goods going around the globe to tight schedules.

  12. Atomic power is on the decline on land after Chernobyl and Fukushima and you seriously suggest compact, poorly shielded reactors on cargo ships?

    There are still no viable options for long-term storage of nuclear waste, countries like Germany closed down their nuclear powerplants before their planned runtime.

    It boggles the mind how atomic power on cargo ships can be seriously suggested in the name of, wait for it, environmental protection!

    This is not a “Transportation Hack”, but completely crazy.

    1. Nuclear waste disposal isn’t a problem. The problem is NIMBYism.

      Nuclear energy works and it will continue to be used outside of backward countries like the U,S, and Western Europe .
      clear works on ships quite well. But requires smart, trained crews to make it work. Something the civilian side with it’s obsession with cost cutting cannot do.

    2. “Poorly shielded?”

      I’ve operated naval reactors before. Poorly shielded? No. I received less radiation on a daily basis than the guys on the flight deck.

      “Still no viable options for long-term storage.” No, there’s no viable politicians who are willing to ignore Fossil-Fuel money in their pockets to stonewall the numerous viable options. Reprocessing being the best option. Borehole storage, oceanic storage in tungsten balls, etc, being other options.

      It boggles the mind how you’d be more okay with fossil powered ships than nuclear.

    3. Germany closed down their nuclear lants after Fukushima because of political reasons – and perhaps because of lobbyism from coal miners. All their growth in renewables is completely offset by the closure of nuclear plants, the net CO2 emission even slightly increased due to that.
      And you would cal this a good decision? NO!

  13. Here in WY there was a radar station at Sundance in the Cold War powered by a small portable reactor that purported had a perfect safety record. 50 years later a Geiger counter will go into alarm a quarter mile outside the fence. Nuclear reactors are not sealed forever, they must vent reaction byproducts continuously. That is part of Russia’s way of tracking our nuclear subs.
    Reactor fuel is not cheap in terms of energy consumed in getting from the ground to the fuel pellet. There is massive amounts of diesel consumed in mining. Concentrating yellowcake into fuel or bombs must also be intensive, or Iran would have had stockpiles 20 years ago. Old reactors litter the Arctic ocean all around Russia’s coast.
    I managed a gas plant with a hydrogen plant for years. Pure hydrogen is not pollution free. The reformer emits all the carbon as carbon dioxide at the plant.
    Tree huggers just can’t seem to get through their heads that electricity, hydrogen, atomic power are only pollution free at the point of consumption. What it takes to mine or drill and produce, purify, transport, and store are part of the equation. But its not in their back yards, so they love it.

  14. In regards to nuclear power on ships.
    It is a fairly logical thing, though, I already outlined in an earlier comment how it likely won’t be practical due to international diplomacy and public/political opinion. (The use in military/naval vessels is a totally different debate.)

    And in regards to international shipping, it can use alternative means to cutting down on its environmental impact.

    Using solar power is almost a gimmick.
    Wind does work, but fabric sails are a chore to handle, and rigid ones are a pain to have during storms.
    Natural-/bio-gas is an option, but the compressibility of methane is fairly lack luster. (it has a density of 96 kg/m^3 at 120 bar and 20C. and 55 MJ/kg)
    Batteries makes even less sense than solar, unless the other port is a very short distance away….

    Ethane could make some sense as a fuel due to it’s fairly high energy density, about 50 MJ/kg, and at only 40 bar it has a density of about 340kg/m^3 at 20C. Not to mention that one can convert methane into ethane fairly efficiently.

    (and everyone thinking, “But what about hydrogen!”, well, it is even harder to compress than methane… One can’t just look at the 100 MJ/kg part, but the kg/m^3 @ pressure needs to also be taken into consideration when dealing with vehicles. (hydrogen compressed to 200 bar at 20C weighs only 14.7 kg/m^3) For a stationary power station, hydrogen is interesting. For everything else, it is mostly overhyped….)

    Diesel though comes in with its 43 MJ/kg and about 800 kg/m^3, a hard figure to beat. But even biodiesel isn’t that practical nor environmentally friendly.

    Methane on the other hand currently is a major green house gas put out by a slew of different sources.

    One of the places responsible for a fairly large portion of world wide methane production is sewage treatment plats. If we were to capture this methane from all current sewage works, then the captured methane would be able to account for about 4% of world wide energy consumption.

    And if we consider that a lot of sewage works spends plenty of effort on aerating the waste as to reduce methane production by over 70%, then we could instead intentionally starved it of air, then the sewage could realistically produce over 16% of the world’s current energy needs. Why not make use of it?

    (Except, biogas production from sewage treatment plants is a growing market, and seemingly an economical one since there is a fair few companies working with it, and even purifying it to pipeline quality.)

    With the consideration that sewage treatment plats exist anywhere were there is enough of a population to run a decent sized port, then it is a very wildly spread fuel source. If converted into the far denser ethane, it could be a very viable fuel for cargo ships. (Not to mention cars and buses.)

    Though, in the end.
    Cargo ships should preferably move towards renewable energy sources, and having a bit of everything is advantageous compared to just sticking to one single solution.

  15. The best solution may be to just reduce the amount of shipping. The reason there is so much of it now is that a large part of the world has cheap labor, and the other part is taking advantage of it. But, as automation increases, labor may be less of a factor in cost. This could eventually make local sourcing more economical for many items.

      1. Except it wouldn’t level the playing field but instead depress their labor price, making them even more competitive outside your jurisdiction (and leaking in, because there is huge opportunity to profit). Nobody likes it, but only true counter move would be massive depreciation of USD and that is not acceptable.

  16. With nuke power you can move ships faster. Those geometric actions on faster really eat up a lot of it. Where does that energy go? The ocean is getting noisier in an exponential way with all the ship traffic. It makes life harder for some species. Slower pays off in the long run. Those overseas labor costs will blow away eventually. Raw stuff only needs to be moved this way.

  17. Wait for fusion reactors, they will be ready a long time before the oil and gas runs out. Ignore the CO2 issue, there is no actual science to support it, and by science I mean a complete symbolic model of the physics that supports the hypothesis rather than cherry picked data and a fragment of the entire model that does not represent how the Earth’s energy system really works.

      1. No, but you may be able to supply me with said complex symbolic description of ALL of the physics applicable to the Earth’s entire energy system, or admit that perhaps I am telling the truth. Either way one or both of us are better off, I get the knowledge I seek or you get your eyes opened to what is really going on. Why I need such a model is an entirely different dialogue but it boils down to the fact that traditional computers can’t do real maths and only ever approximate real numbers. If you don’t fully understand the above then now is the time for you to run away with your tail between your legs, otherwise we can proceed and talk about using that model on quantum computers and how many qubits we will need. So off you go, get that symbolic physics model for me, I’ll wait….

        1. (slow clapping)

          You, sir, are a relief to see here.

          It is my first time on this site, and I do like it, but despite the caliber of discussion I felt that something was missing.

          It is good to see someone show some spine, and actually apply a gritty “show me” variety of skepticism to the silly theories that have fooled so many supposed “scientists”.

          Heck, a lot of those alarmists only have undergraduate degrees, or at best a Masters, and have been immersed in research so deeply that they fail to see the inherent bias that has fooled them so badly.

          Not a one of them has likely ever thought to step back from their models and say to themselves “Wait a second! These data sets are intrinsically faulty, because they do not account for all possible factors that can influence a semi-chaotic intersection of all systems relating to the world and it’s specific location in space.

          Idiots. I bet almost none of them ever think to take the simple precaution of looking in their daily papers to see what sign Uranus is in so that they can account for it’s minuscule gravitational affect.

          They could never aspire to have the stroke of insight that if they only demand a completeness of data available to an omniscient being, they can then defend whatever they want to believe.

          You know better than that, of course.

          As a rational person, of course you won’t mistake silly parlour tricks and mummery for magic, or whatever, but I bet you will find figuring out how I manage the three things that might seem prophetic with my next words to be a challenge.

          1. I am not a mind reader, but I am certain that in your next reply you will not choose to explain how it is that the structural form of carbon dioxide that theoretically allows it to be transparent to visible wavelengths, yet absorb infrared radiation that the energy of the visible light becomes when re-emitted from the earth, is not in truth an active effect outside of laboratories and thus can be discounted.

          Of course, we both know that you could, I am just asserting that you will choose not to.

          2. I also predict that you will not give a complete outline of how anyone challenged would go about providing the set of information that your standards of completeness demands from people making ridiculous alarmist assertions involving the effects of human activity on our environment.

          I can respect that, people should be able to sail that course on their own, any lack of a molecule by molecule measurement of the atmosphere including both the positions and vectors of every particle, is a result of their own shortcomings.

          Now for the kicker.

          It s going to seem like a way out theory, and I can’t test it on my own; so if my premises are correct I hope that you would be so kind as to take a bit of your time as a favour to try and falsify them for me.

          For science.

          3. Working with a couple of assumptions ( correct me if I am wrong, please):

          – You are a living human.
          – You have been alive for as long as you can recall.
          – You have never been fully dead beyond the point of resuscitation.

          From those three basic points, comes an almost rock solid conclusion, seriously it is world shaking and I hope that you can help me solidify it and we can set the world on it’s ear.

          Because, if you look at those points it seems only logical to conclude that you, sir, are incapable of dying.

          Your mortality is just a deception foisted upon you and everyone else by the System.

          Please, play with that for a while, test it out, explore the limits of your freedom from the lie.

          Then come back and tell me what you have to teach me.

          I look forward to learning from your discoveries.

          I sincerely do.


          1. Experts should always be challenged constantly, no matter the subject and no matter by whom. Your reddit-esque wall of text isn’t as funny as you think it is, and it just serves to reinforce the status quo orthodoxy. I’m sure 500 years ago you’d be just as smug about whatever the church was teaching, and would enjoy nothing more than knowing how absolutely clever you are.

            It’s a shame there aren’t any upvotes here, though; you won’t be able to get your usual dopamine rush from regurgitating the Correct Opinions to the like-minded masses. Sad!

        2. Actually buddy, I am not such a fan of reddit, and when I pass through I usually am diving into big digital tubs of BS hoping I can hold my breath long enough to find the drain plug and pull it.

          I am no great fan of orthodoxy or the status quo by any means, in fact I have had experiences that I simply keep to myself because no one would believe me except for wing nuts, and I do not have any evidence to show of them.

          When I mock you, I am not “defending” anything.

          I am quite deliberately attacking what appears to be a habituated rhetorical fallacy that has likely been cycling through your head and out you mouth enough times that it has become hardwired, and not likely to be open to modification at any future point.

          It is not even yourself that I am casting my contempt at (even though I probably would not enjoy your company for long, if at all), no, it is quite purely and simply the horribly bad reasoning that you are toughing out above, and the tone of pomposity with which you do so.

          It is reminiscent of a child that is proud of having learned to smear faeces on it’s face, and the walls, except the infant would be forgivable and the mess cleaned up, whereas I shudder to think of what pattern of events has led you to use this clumsy challenge in lieu of substance.

          I am not mocking your words because I am orthodox in any field or belief, I am mocking your words because they are idiotic.

          EVEN IF you had some insights of validity that were beyond the pale, the could really make a difference if understood, the fact that you are presenting yourself and thus representing anything that you might know at all, using crap rhetoric would make the words themselve double the idiocy factor because of the lost potential for good.

          Don’t try playing cute turnaround or deflection gambits with me, I stalk world class BS slingers and you are not in that league.

          Be grateful, they are horrible people.

      1. No I have only ever heard people claiming that such a joke what once said by some clown but there is no evidence to support the assertion, nor any indication of the intellectual capabilities of said joker.

  18. Nuclear shipping would be a great idea in theory but I agree that it is unlikely because, as the previous comments mentioned, no one will want a vessel maintained to the lowest standards possible to save a buck anywhere near their ports even if the threat or piracy or terrorists could be fully discounted.

    This does kind of remind me of a book I read once though. It was called Texas on the Rocks, in the story they start a corporation that will move icebergs to the Texas coast to provide an additional source of fresh water to the newly reformed republic. The company settles on using a tow vessel that pulled itself along an enormous undersea cable and had a number of Magnus Effect sails. I don’t know how feasible any of it would be in real life but it sounded like a pretty novel idea.

    1. “no one will want a vessel maintained to the lowest standards possible to save a buck anywhere near their ports”
      A very good argument – to adhere to the right standads of safety and maintanance, because you want to go into that ports to do your business.

    2. This is exactly why they wouldn’t be maintained to the lowest possible standards.

      At the very least the nations owning the ports would require inspection teams to be able to board.
      At best they have such a stellar record and integrity that, like the US Navy, no one questions the need to inspect them because they’re maintained rigorously and no one could actually do better than their own internal regulators and inspectors.

      There are great upshots of going nuclear; your QA program increases as a matter of course. Administrative efficiency goes up. Safety skyrockets. The bleedover of all the things you have to do to go nuclear is extremely beneficial to the company as a whole. You have more highly educated people in the company who can go on and help make future improvements as they get promoted.

  19. > that could otherwise make a conflict rather embarrassing when one’s prized aircraft carrier runs out of fuel.

    Not only that. My mom’s cousin was an antiaircraft gunner on the USS Lexington (CV16) during World War II and talked about a multi-day storm severe enough some of the escort light destroyers couldn’t get a refueling line to the refueling ships, and once they ran out of fuel they couldn’t maneuver into the waves, capsized, and sank.

  20. This is way to complicated a subject matter to really do it justice. It’s not just politics but standards training how to prevent nuclear units from being sold as scrap. How to prevent stupid design errors in such units etc. Who can operate them. How to decommission them etc.
    That’s just a few bits of what has to be done to make it real. The subject matter is actually MORE complicated than rocket science. Making and fueling a nuclear reactor is bluntly non-trivial. Also the prior designs can’t be used. They aren’t legal internationally and shouldn’t even be thought of as valid. <– keep that in mind.
    Designing a nuclear reactor is also non trivial. This whole subject has been mostly glossed over "it's been done before" won't work.
    None of this is trivial their is no "standard" either. So a lot of things have to happen to remotely make this real. MOST of which is regulatory, that actually should be done first.

  21. just inspired me to do some back of the envelope calculations using the first numbers to come from a google search…

    panamax = 106 ft * 950 ft = 100,700 ft^2. a randomly-selected solar panel is 325W / 18 ft^2 = 18W/ft^2. so a panamax fully covered with panels would be on the order of 1.8MW.

    a panamax draws 63,000 gal/day at speed. diesel is around 38 MJ/L, or 40kWh/gal. so around 2.5GWh/day or 100MW.

    hopefully i didn’t make any huge mistakes :)

    so, to answer my question, they’re not remotely on the same magnitude. it seems like even if the ship goes slower and storage and motors are magically super efficient, it still wouldn’t be plausible. solar-powered cargo vessels would be in a totally different (and inferior) class.

    1. I think you have slightly undersold the solar, at least the ratings on the panels I have are a fair bit better per area (and on a sunny clear day will produce more than the rating) – still going to be small potatoes in total power output comparatively maybe making that 1.8KW into 3kW and change (with active heat exchange into the oceans perhaps even a little more – PV’s don’t work efficient when hot and get damn hot in the sun – so probably going to gain a fair bit more power than the cost of pumping the heat to the oceans).

      So perhaps not inferior, but certainly good for different jobs. Afterall ‘free’ unlimited travel is free unlimited travel, so its got to be good for something (and should be less weather effected than landbased solar I would think). If/when we get to the point of ‘drone’ ships that do all the work themselves and run without crew on board much of the time the running costs look even better (and solar electric done right would be better for that by far – so many less moving parts to wear, and I’d expect simpler and less frequent maintenance requirements, with more onboard redundancy as powerful motors and control electronics are ‘small’ and ‘cheap’ – even more so when they can be easily kept cool thanks to a massive blue wet thing they are floating on…)

      I suspect the design would be very different – probably shaped like a fast-cat with only two thin hulls in the water but scaled up to cargo ship sort of size (once underway perhaps hydroplane for lower drag still), and loaded/unloaded like a car-ferry with a drop down drawbridge – so the entire top surface can be solar. Would be a tricky design balancing act to get it efficient enough that it could hope to stay up on the plane and thus go fast just on generated energy and whatever store they grab from shore while loading/unloading – Back of the envelope sort of math says that is plausable, barely. Or going for the ‘free’ to run slow boat experience is very doable, just slow…

      Don’t really see it happening though, unless its a publicity stunt or some new tech comes along that massively steps up efficiencies. As oxidation of fuels is so easy and effective – I expect the fuels will just move to Hydrogen, carbon captured/biowaste fuels or powdered metals (the last one seeming most plausible from my current reading and Hydrogen a solid second, and artificial hydrocarbon fuel a very probable but most likely stopgap measure to keep older machines running rather than a major part of the future).. However as the article says Nuclear really could be used and would be very practical if the political will to push it and/or society becomes willing to accept it. It wouldn’t be half as expensive as a military refuel either. For one thing the cargo ships need much less power and have more space to put it it – so its a less complex system, and if everyone was using them then like Alkaline AA batteries mass production and recycling would make them ‘cheap’ to use.

  22. Nope, not going to happen, ever.

    Apart from the political and safety concerns (realistic or not), the issues with maintenance, accident issues (imagine a nuclear powered ship sinking in a fishing area), technology transfer and cost means this is a non-starter.

    The article also underplays the alternatives. Since a lot of vessels are moving away from pure diesel to combined diesel/lectric, hydrogen fuel cells are increasingly attractive, since ships an be retrofitted (replacing ships is expensive, generally the industry prefers to upgrade them) . Yes there are huge infrastructure issues, in terms of transport and storage, but the LNG industry deal with them everyday and they are small beer compared with the issues of transporting and storing fission materials. (disclaimer – I work for a company which produces ship electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells is something being actively researched)

    I am not anti-nuclear per-se and it will remain an important aspect of the energy generating industry, but going back to the cold war ideals of nuclear everything is just la la land

  23. I vouch for this! Considering private companies that make rockets that can take an object the size and weight of a small bus to speeds of Mach 22 (SpaceX taking Crew Dragon to the space-station), attempting to remove 3.5% of the total pollution-output of humanity, while also potentially saving money, making cheap transport faster, and most importantly, increasing the usage of nuclear power enough that fortune 500 companies like Maersk will want to spend big dollars on research to make it cheaper and better, so stationary stations will benefit, and it might in time become possible for smaller vehicles like commercial airplanes, trains and maybe even semi-trucks (Even though i believe they will become battery-electric instead) to become nuclear-powered too.
    Right now, that is one of the only feasible ways of reducing pollution enough that it will make a considerable difference

  24. Could we atleast start with not burning Oil/Gas/Coal in powerplants on land?

    Build small modular reaktors as fast as we can, all over the world, after that we can focus on the shipping industry

  25. While it might seem like a recent phenomena, the alternative facts and fake news have been a factor for many decades, when it comes to nuclear energy.

    Here we are, among technically literate subset of population (or at least above average) and yet we can’t seem to agree on the very basics. Despite having access to plethora of data, countless hours of expert testimony and wealth of educational sources, the mechanisms of radioactivity, principles of nuclear fission and basic facts of past nuclear accidents seem to remain a mystery to an incredible percentage of Hackaday readers.

  26. Nuclear proliferation is a real issue and proper oversight would be required but lets not forget how many people die every day by burning hydrocarbons and dumping the exhaust into the atmosphere that we all breath. Oh, and since rain scrubs the exhaust effluent air our water is contaminated as well.

    All in, I would rather have clean water and air and worry about nuclear’s issues…

  27. This is but a bandaid, over another bandaid that has been previously ripped off. If we didn’t need so many container ships full of ‘stuff’ that may or may not even be needed past a whim of some persons mind, or based off some measure of greed, maybe a smaller fleet of well guarded nuclear transportation would suffice. At one time the world operated just fine while being somewhat ‘less connected’, I think it would still do. Issue with that, where the issue is the health of the Planet, of which we are supposed Stewart’s, this somewhat less connected world, in terms of transfer of goods and raw materials, would have to compete with a few things, first is greed. Granted, some use the system for sustination, but the foundation of the system is greed, where the little guy might be using said system to survive. Second is the psychology of addiction, which is just as big as greed. Ask people to save the Planet by doing this or that, until you ask them to put down the phone, then all bets are off. When the discussion goes inward, excuses come. As example, do you Really need cheap electronics coming from outside where you live, necessitating said fleet of cargo ships transporting said cheap stuff from here to there? Could you absorb paying a little extra for something build a little closer, bypassing some amount of shipping? Lastly, but not limited to these 3, if you want people to participate in this ‘green revolution’, one just has to make it not more expensive to do so, and not too much more inconvenient to the systems being used right now. Som amount of inconvience, sure, a large difference, no, since then one has to begin to force a comply, which is never good. A much bigger topic than simply shipping really, but the green movement itself is playing the world economy game itself. I would suggest a clear definition of goals, which we should already know, but the how’s are off left out. Going electric cars is not the answer, same with simply converting however many container ships to nuclear.

  28. ….Cruise ships are a nightmare in almost every way. I don’t know why the hell anyone would want to be on one… unless they’re there to rape or murder someone and get away with it. Patriot Act does a good job of calling them on almost all of their bull if anyone is interested. Tax the crap out of them. Despite which port they register their ships in the headquarters is on American soil, they add literally negative value to our societies, so tax them into oblivion and say “good riddance”. If you want to “go on a cruise” charter one of the 10 billion private boat cruises and enjoy a sense of privacy, rather than a floating sewage backup waiting to happen. :-D

  29. I think liquid hydrogen would be appropriate for cargo ships. Compressed hydrogen has too many drawbacks for most purposes and although liquid hydrogen has boil-off issues, these are less important at large scale (Square-cube relationship). Liquid hydrogen is much, much denser than compressed hydrogen and has much lighter weight tanks. Similar tech for storage as for LNG. Liquid hydrogen would be fairly practical.

    But speaking of LNG, power-to-gas is also possible. Take the hydrogen and combine it with direct-air-captured CO2 (or possibly nitrogen), and you have methane (or ammonia, also can be burned like methane) using the Sabatier Process (Haber Process). Some energy is lost this way, but it’s much easier to store and can be used in more things with fewer modifications than hydrogen.

    Some cargo ships are already converting to LNG, so this would make it fairly simple to electrify those ships. (Of course, you could also synthesize liquid fuels, but at less efficiency).

    I’d love nuclear container ships, though. Super cool. But I would bet against them seeing any significance.

    1. Burning ammonia doesn’t seem like the most obvious way to reduce NOx emissions.
      I suspect, but don’t know, that NOx would be a problem with any internal combustion fuel, be it hydrogen, methane or ammonia as long as the working fluid is atmospheric nitrogen. But probably less so than diesel due to lower compression ratios and nearer stochiometry. But burning ammonia seems like a good way to have plenty of nitrogen ions in the mix to react with the oxygen.

  30. And another thought… Imagine it being attacked by a terror organization, either in open water, I’m thinking of where the current will take irradiated water… Or in one of the ports equipped to handle it, just imagine that port being out of commission, as well as human loss. If it doesn’t have a small fleet around it to defend it, like an aircraft carrier does, then it would need access to up to the minute 360×360, over the horizon situational awareness, and immediate access to any friendly navy for assistance.

    1. We’re talking about a small reactor. In open water, by the time the radioactive particulate spread beyond the horizon line you’re looking at a minuscule increase in radioactivity because of how thoroughly it would be diluted. The ocean is already radioactive because of natural potassium.

      Besides that, is the terrorist organization packing an Ant-Ship Missile? And if so, launched from what? Reactors aren’t made of tissue paper.

      I served on an aircraft carrier for five years. The only times we had a “small fleet” around us was for photo-opportunities. Other than that, we had a single destroyer as a plane-guard.

  31. I didn’t read past the “diesel fuel” part- big ships, at least IIRC burn (or burned) bunker oil, not diesel so any further reading of an article about something as technical as nuclear powered ships would be moot…. IMO of course

  32. Alternate idea, build a big nuke plant near the coast to power a plant that extracts the absorbed CO2 from the ocean and/or air and uses that for the carbon feed into a synthetic diesel plant, then pump that carbon neutral fuel into the ships instead of the usual bunker oil. That solves the various diplomatic/safety issues (real or imagined) of the ship itself being nuclear and you can burn the same stuff in shipping trucks on the land.

  33. With the Suez canal blockage and not knowing how long it will be. It might further the interest nuclear powered container and oil ships. Going around Cape Hope at 40 knots would take a lot less time then using diesel fueled ships. It would save time, save money on fuel, save money of going through Suez Canal and more space for cargo and crew.

  34. Although I enjoy the premise of this article, I personally do not believe atomic fuelled ships are the correct solution. Coming from a nuclear free country, I would imagine all our cargo would be unloaded at another port, so that is still okay for us. Other technologies could be used to fuel ships, but I would like to see carbon neutrality. Nuclear is an option for this, but there are many others.

    At far as logistics go, the best answer is localised manufacturing that makes use of local materials. This is the best answer. Our quest for ‘more’ is destroying our world and our lives, and involves the creation of many false economies that have unstable foundations. For example, these good are shipped from other parts of the world, in some cases, by exploiting other humans, just so we (a western nation) can have more ‘stuff’ at the expense of others.

    Nuclear is better utilised in nations that do not have sufficient renewable energy reserves, and for mission critical situations (such as for warfare and research station maintenance). What would happen if there was an error with a reactor in space, would everything become irradiated within a vacumn?

    Be well my friends, and take care of our planet. Not only for our generation, but for those still to come.

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