China’s Nuclear-Powered Containership: A Fluke Or The Future Of Shipping?

Since China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) unveiled its KUN-24AP containership at the Marintec China Expo in Shanghai in early December of 2023, the internet has been abuzz about it. Not just because it’s the world’s largest container ship at a massive 24,000 TEU, but primarily because of the power source that will power this behemoth: a molten salt reactor of Chinese design that is said to use a thorium fuel cycle. Not only would this provide the immense amount of electrical power needed to propel the ship, it would eliminate harmful emissions and allow the ship to travel much faster than other containerships.

Meanwhile the Norwegian classification society, DNV, has already issued an approval-in-principle to CSSC Jiangnan Shipbuilding shipyard, which would be a clear sign that we may see the first of this kind of ship being launched. Although the shipping industry is currently struggling with falling demand and too many conventionally-powered ships that it had built when demand surged in 2020, this kind of new container ship might be just the game changer it needs to meet today’s economic reality.

That said, although a lot about the KUN-24AP is not public information, we can glean some information about the molten salt reactor design that will be used, along with how this fits into the whole picture of nuclear marine propulsion.

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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 againstĀ  a wall. Yet an existing, proven technology just so happens to exist already which can be retrofitted into existing cargo ships. Continue reading “The Shipping Industry’s Transition To Atomic Power And Faster Deliveries”

The Legacy Of One Of Science’s Brightest Stars: Freeman Dyson

Of the many well-known names in science, few have been as reluctant to stick to one particular field as Freeman John Dyson. Born in the UK in 1923, he showed a great interest in mathematics and related fields even as a child. By the time he was 15 he had won a scholarship at Trinity College, in Cambridge, where he studied mathematics. Though the war forced him to work at the Air Force’s Operational Research Section (ORS), afterwards he would return to Trinity to get his BA in mathematics.

His subsequent career saw him teaching at universities in the UK and US, before eventually ending up at Cornell University, where he joined the Institute for Advanced Study at the invitation of its head, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Here he would meet up with such people as Richard Feynman with whom he would work on quantum electrodynamics.

Beyond mathematics and physics, Dyson would also express great interest in space exploration — with Dyson spheres being well-known — and genetics, both in the context of the first formation of life and in genetic manipulation to improve plants to deal with issues today. He also worked on the famous Project Orion, which used nuclear bombs for propulsion.

In this article we’ll take a look at these and other parts of Mr. Dyson’s legacy, as well as the influence of his works today.

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