© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A speed boat and a sail boat pass as the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered super carrier, departs for Yokosuka, Japan from Naval Station North Island in San Diego, California August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON (Reuters) – The maritime industry is exploring whether nuclear fuel can be used to power commercial ships as advancements in technology open up such options, industry officials said.
Nevertheless, any possible nuclear fuel solutions for ships are at least 10 years away they added.
Shipping accounts for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions and the industry is under pressure from investors and environmentalists to find cleaner fuel solutions, which include ammonia, methanol and wind.
Nuclear energy has been used in the past to power military submarines and icebreakers, although its use by merchant ships has been constrained partly by the cost, but also due wariness by insurers of providing cover for ships going into commercial ports without more understanding of the risks involved.
A survey in May by the International Chamber of Shipping association said nuclear fuel was being viewed with more interest than in 2021, with some seeing nuclear-powered commercial ships being viable within the next decade.
Small and mass-produced reactors, which are envisaged to be fitted onboard ships, are less powerful and consume less nuclear fuel than traditional nuclear sites.
“The development of the fourth modular nuclear reactors generation is paving the way for possible future applications on board of ships,” a spokesperson with Italy-based shipbuilder Fincantieri said, referring to the smaller nuclear plants.
“At the moment, several technology providers are dealing with manufacturing of prototypes, the development processes of which are at different levels of maturity, envisaging more or less a decade before completing proof of concepts.”
Fincantieri was “interested in following the evolution of these technologies which may result in significant contribution to the decarbonisation of ships related to our core business”, which is cruise liners, naval ships and specialised vessels, the spokesperson added.
Italy’s RINA, one of the world’s leading ship certification companies, is studying the use of nuclear fuel and is involved in a feasibility study alongside Fincantieri and a nuclear technology company, RINA’s CEO Ugo Salerno told Reuters.
Salerno said container ships, which…