Cruise Industry

Could nuclear power be an alternative for cruise lines seeking net-zero operations?

Fincantieri has announced that it has signed an agreement with newcleo, a nuclear energy company, and Rina, the Italy-based ship classification and engineering organization, to study nuclear power applications forlarge ships.

The feasibility study on newcleo’s lead-cooled small modular reactor (SMRs) technology and its application aboard large ocean-going vessels, raises the possibility for its use aboard cruise ships in future as the industry urgently looks to decarbonise.

The SMR technology would be used in the development of an LFR (lead-cooled fast reactor), which would involve placing a closed mini reactor on vessels as a small nuclear battery producing 30 MW, according to a statement from Fincantieri.

newcleo and Fincantieri are exploring the commercial use of a marine nuclear reactor

“The agreement allows us to explore the possibility of adding a new and visionary solution among those at our disposal to achieve the decarbonization goals the industry has set itself,” said Pierroberto Folgiero, CEO and general manager, Fincantieri. “Nuclear power holds enormous potential and, as such, it needs the best expertise to be expressed, and we are proud to join with partners like newcleo and Rina to help get this done.”

The shipyard said that refueling would only be required once every 10 to 15 years with limited maintenance and easy replacement at the end of its service life. Crucially, the nuclear reactor would also be safe for marine eco-systems as newcleo’s design has the reactor enclosed in liquid lead that will solidify when it comes into contact with water, creating a sold casing that contains all radiation.

Last week the IMO approved new targets for GHG emission reductions, to reach net-zero GHG emissions by or around 2050, and clean nuclear energy to power marine vessels would help to rapidly decarbonise shipping, according to Fincantieri.

The shipyard says nuclear propulsion would also eliminate the need for frequent refueling, and at the end of its life, the lead cooled reactor would be removed and replaced with a new one, with the spent reactordecommissioned and reprocessed.

NS Savannah

Nuclear energy has been in use aboard submarines, aircraft carriers and other naval vessels since 1955 when the submarine USS Nautilus was commissioned. While the prospect of nuclear-powered cruise ships might sound far-fetched, its actually an idea that goes back to the very first uses of nuclear energy.

In 1959, the mixed-use cargo-passenger ship NS Savannah was launched, she was one of four nuclear-powered civilian ships, and operated between 1962 and 1972. The ship was primarily a demonstration of civil nuclear power and was too small and expensive to operate economically as her design was a compromise between passenger liner and cargo ship that suited the needs of neither.

The German-built Otto Hahn, completed in 1968, was a cargo ship and research vessel that sailed 126 voyages over 10 years, covering 650,000 nautical miles without any technical problems. Like NS Savannah, however, it was too expensive to operate and was later converted to diesel. In 1972, Japan launched the nuclear-powered Mutsu general cargo ship, but due to a range of technical problems she never carried a commercial cargo, and after significant radiation leakage became a major political issue, she was converted to diesel.

In 1988, the USSR launched Sevmorput, a cargo ship with ice-breaking capability. The ship has been operating on the Northern Sea Route ever since, and is today the only nuclear-powered merchant ship in service. There are also a fleet of Russian nuclear-powered ice-breakers, but they are operated as part of the Russian Navy.

The Norwegian shipbuilder Ulstein has put forward a nuclear-powered cruise ship design

Last year, the Norwegian shipbuilder Ulstein put forward a concept design for a small expedition cruise ship that would use a molten salt reactor, a type of nuclear reactor that was first tested in the 1960s. Like the design proposed by newcleo and Fincantieri, this design is seen as an alternative to traditional nuclear reactors, because it operates at a much lower pressure.

A meltdown is impossible, because if the core overheats, the salt mixture automatically drops into a containment vessel, where it harmlessly solidifies.

The use of nuclear power in electricity generation on land remains controversial, despite the decades-long maturity of the technology, so it could take some time to get cruise operators and political authorities comfortable with the idea of using nuclear power for cruise ship-related operations.

Leave a Reply