Nuclear Power

Last Updated: Jun 2011


The initial investment to build a nuclear-powered ship is estimated to be around $700 million, plus an initial $113 million for the reactor core. By comparison, the cost of the diesel-powered ship in the neighbourhood of $150 million, according to a study by the Center for Commercial Deployment of Transportation Technologies (CCDOTT).

For a nuclear propelled ship the fuel cost is included in the initial cost of the reactor and the ship, for conventionally enriched uranium 235U of around 3 to 4%, will then be able to trade for some four to five years before needing to refuel again.

According to a report released in May, 2010 entitled Nuclear Powered Cruise Ship - Engineering Analysis reactor fuel also costs 85% less than bunker fuel.

Current trials

The design, development and production of nuclear marine propulsion plants started in the US in the 1940s. The first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, put to sea in 1955.

Some 140 ships are powered by more than 180 small nuclear reactors and more than 12,000 reactor years of marine operation has been accumulated.

The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) announced in December, 2010 it is working with Damen Shipyards Group to build a new nuclear cargo vessel with the environment and safety in mind.

In 2009 Chinese shipping giant Cosco announced it was looking into the possibility of powering its fleet of the future with nuclear power, but Cosco's chief executive Wei Jiafu said that support from organisations such as INTERTANKO and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) would be required to move to nuclear.

In October 2009 US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that over the next ten years the Navy intends to deploy an energy efficient green fleet consisting of ships powered by nuclear energy and biofuels.

In November 2010 the British Maritime classification society Lloyd's Register embarked upon a two-year study with US-based Hyperion Power Generation, British vessel designer BMT Group, and Greek ship operator Enterprises Shipping and Trading SA to investigate the practical maritime applications for small modular reactors.

Special attention is being paid to analysis of a vessel's lifecycle cost as well as to hull-form designs and structural layout, including grounding and collision protection.

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