American Bureau of Shipping to look at nuclear propulsion

23 August 2022

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) has been awarded a contract by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to research barriers to the adoption of advanced nuclear propulsion on commercial vessels. The $800,000 research project was awarded by the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy last year and formally contracted through its US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development funding opportunity. It will address challenges to adopting new reactor technology in commercial maritime applications. ABS will develop models of different advanced reactor technologies for maritime applications and develop an industry advisory on the commercial use of modern nuclear power.

Support will be provided by DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Centre (NRIC), based at Idaho National Laboratory. NRIC will provide the advanced reactor framework to help propose how a maritime nuclear demonstration could take place. 

In a separate, smaller award, DOE also contracted ABS to support research into molten salt reactors being carried out by the University of Texas. Patrick Ryan, ABS Senior Vice President, Global Engineering and Technology, said: “Modern nuclear technologies are increasingly suggested as a potential solution to shipping’s decarbonisation challenge. The technology certainly has potential both in terms of its contribution to emissions reduction and for US shipyards and their supply chains to leverage national investment in terrestrial nuclear energy development.” However, he added: “Nevertheless, many questions need to be answered and it is critical the industry is able to evaluate these technologies with a laser focus on safety.

NRIC director Ashley Finan said the national lab system has powerful capabilities. “When we partner with industry, we can jointly apply those to our energy challenges, and NRIC was created to make that happen faster. There’s a tremendous opportunity to reduce emissions in shipping, as well as growing interest from both the maritime and advanced nuclear sectors, and we’re pleased to be a part of this important work.”

ABS has history with maritime nuclear energy sources dating back to 1959 with the NS Savannah which was the first merchant ship powered by a nuclear reactor and approved under ABS Rules.

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