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Horizons article 14 December 2023

Offshore and shipping – opportunities for nuclear

  • Nuclear
Issue 67
Abstract nuclear graphic

Nuclear generation and the use of nuclear power at sea would support decarbonisation efforts, says Lloyd’s Register’s nuclear expert, Mark Tipping

Mark Tipping

Mark Tipping

Lloyd’s Register’s Global Power to X Director

Nuclear is firming up as a way for many ‘hard to abate’ industries, including maritime, to emancipate themselves from fossil fuels. Reliable, with very low emission credentials and small production footprint, modern forms of nuclear technology are garnering increasing interest within governments and across industries.  

It already forms the backbone of many energy networks, with some western countries, notably France, and also China relying on nuclear reactors for a significant percentage of their energy requirements.  

Nuclear is a sector that’s expected to see impressive levels of growth over the next 10 to 15 years, with many commentators noting its impressive safety record, and the potential to demonstrate its economic benefits in a way it has not had the chance to do yet. The next generation of reactors have the promise of truly making nuclear an available technology. 

Mark Tipping, Lloyd’s Register’s Global Power to X Director, believes there is a significant opportunity for nuclear technology to support the world’s energy transition, including providing a long-term low- or zero-carbon energy supply for many types of vessels. 

Growing possibilities  

Nuclear has enviably low emission credentials. No SOx, NOx, CO2 or particulates are created during the production of nuclear power. A small amount of carbon is associated with its lifecycle but this in no different to any other energy vectors such as wind and solar. 

Tipping has been following the possibilities of nuclear for decades and is actively supporting clients considering the deployment of nuclear technology and readily points to a number of new technologies currently being developed that will play a part in the energy transition, “all of which are being developed in line with inherently safe physics, removing many of the risks previously associated with nuclear energy and the technology developed in the 1970s.”  

One example are small modular reactors (SMR) which cover a range of technologies, and which unlike their predecessors employ passive safety systems as opposed to the active systems required on earlier technologies.  

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency the new technology will be only a fraction of the size of regular reactors, modular in design, and relatively easy to transport. 

Nuclear fission illustration

Nuclear green fuel production

Tipping envisions that in the very near future SMRs could be installed in coastal waters on offshore platforms, floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels and barges. The power generated would be used to create clean electricity, which would be sent ashore and used to power and heat communities, or in industries such as water desalination, agriculture and chemical manufacture. 

“Russia has been operating floating nuclear powerplants (FNPP) since 2019 and so it won’t be long before more facilities come online,” Tipping says. 

Nuclear energy can also be used in the production of low- or zero-carbon fuels and can efficiently and sustainably generate hydrogen, and by extension ammonia, two fuels being lined up to power the next generation of vessels. 

"Eventually, the nuclear power generated offshore could be used in the floating production of hydrogen and ammonia.”  

"Eventually, the nuclear power generated offshore could be used in the floating production of hydrogen and ammonia.”
Mark Tipping

Mark Tipping

Global Power to X Director, Lloyd's Register

A low carbon future 

In the future 2035? we are likely to see these new nuclear reactors deployed on ships, initially on nuclear corridors but with the potential to grow into a truly international deployment over time. 

“The level of ambition that maritime has to create a low- or zero-fuel bunkers network is remarkable,” Tipping says, “but the fact remains that there will not be enough alternative fuels to go around, at least in the medium term (2035). Many operators, especially ships owned by smaller companies that don’t have the resources to augment their own fuel supply chains, will be left out in the cold,” he adds. “In many ways you could say that nuclear will enable a more equitable low-carbon future.” 

Lloyd’s Register is also closely watching the conversation around re-purposing existing coal plants to house nuclear reactors. “We believe it’s a concept with huge scope and one that could save emissions as existing structures are reused, as well as time and money. We anticipate increasing interest in this concept, both from governments and commercial enterprises, as the Paris Agreement on climate change deadline to reduce emissions by around 40% by 2030, approaches.”  

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