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‘Maritime atomic battery is the future of shipping’

September 1, 2020 Maritime Safety News

Mikal Bøe’s Core-Power sketches in bold terms the unique perspectives of this energy source, which would overshadow all other possible ways of emission-free propulsion. In fact, he claims it would be the only viable cost-effective, safe zero-emission technology.

Atomic battery

This is not ‘old’ nuclear technology with light water reactors, such as those used on submarines, aircraft carriers and icebreakers, but new advanced ‘atomic battery technology’. Other alternatives, such as hydrogen and ammonia as fuel, are far too expensive and unsafe, according to Core-Power.

The basis of the story is the maritime Molten Salt Reactor (m-MSR). It is based on a technology developed as early as the 1950s. It uses a fluid fuel in the form of very hot fluoride or chloride salt infused with a “hot” fissile material, instead of solid fuel rods which are used in conventional pressurised nuclear reactors.

m-MSRs have no moving parts, operate at very high temperatures under only ambient pressure, and can be made small enough to provide micro-grid-scale electric power for energy hungry assets, like large ships. Because of this, they can be mass-manufactured to bring the cost of energy down below that of gas, diesel and even renewables, according to Core-Power.

Experiments

Despite an endless series of experiments, the technology has so far produced barely functioning systems. On paper, MSRs have great advantages over conventional reactors. For example, they can basically operate at normal air pressure, where light water reactors require a pressure of up to 150 atmospheres. As a result, the construction of an MSR is, in principle, much cheaper.

Core-Power states that ‘the fuel is the coolant of an MSR and the coolant is the fuel, which cannot leak away’. What happened in Chernobyl or Fukushima is unthinkable with an m-MSR,’ says the start-up. According to the company, ‘excitement is growing in the maritime sector’ because MSRs can power large ships such as supertankers and 24,000 TEU container ships completely electrically for thirty years without having to refuel.

Consortium

The company, which is also based in Singapore, says it works with ‘a consortium of leading m-MSR developers’. However, it is unclear which parties they are. Nor does Core-Power give any indication of the development costs or the price of such a m-MSR, nor of the dimensions of such an installation.

On its site, however, the company is very optimistic about the pace at which shipping can switch to the use of atomic batteries. The current fleet of an estimated 40,000 smaller ships could already start sailing on synthetic ‘electro fuels’ such as green ammonia, which is produced with atomic power MSRs, in the period 2024-2028.

And from 2028, a new generation of large ships with their own reactor would come into service, which would never have to refuel again. Moreover, they will be bigger, faster and cheaper than the current ships, Core-Power promises. In short, the technology opens up ‘a new future for global shipping’. Anyone who has confidence in it, is very welcome to invest.

This article first appeared in Dutch on Nieuwsblad Transport, a publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.