BWXT and Crowley consider microreactors for shipping

26 September 2023

US-based BWX Technologies’ (BWXT’s) Advanced Technologies subsidiary and logistics, marine & energy solutions company Crowley have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop a ship concept that could use a microreactor to generate energy for defence and disaster needs.

Under the MOU, both companies to jointly pursue and develop opportunities for the design, engineering and development of new shallow-draft hull ships able to supply small-scale nuclear energy to shoreside locations. The vessels would make use of the latest technology available for factory fabricated microreactors. These would be readily deployed into a shipyard configuration for ease of installation. The onboard power plant would supply energy to shore facilities, such as military bases in remote island locations, back-up utility grids after disasters, and provide power in other scenarios where traditional electricity sources are damaged or not possible, the companies said.

The new vessel concept envisions a 378-foot ship from Crowley with in-house vessel design by Crowley Engineering Services. It would use the nuclear capabilities of BWXT, which has supplied nuclear components, fuel and services to the US government for more than 60 years.

“Our cooperation with BWXT will move Crowley for the first time into the nuclear energy sector, a key part of our commitment to sustainable, alternative energy sources,” said Shiju Zacharia, Senior Vice President & General Manager at Crowley Government Solutions. “This concept supports the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) goal of maintaining US leadership in nuclear energy technology as well as many of the US Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) strategic goals for operational energy,”

This new vessel concept pairs traditional propulsion while carrying a modular reactor of 5-50 MWe that can be activated upon arrival at the destination and be deactivated and transported after the power supply is discontinued. Buoyed power delivery cables will enable the ships to deploy energy connections to shore. Shallow draft hulls will allow the vessels to manoeuvre to strategically deliver power for military activities or if disasters limit harbour access.

“We are excited to work alongside Crowley to leverage our ongoing reactor development and demonstration programmes to expand nuclear technology into new and novel markets to deliver zero carbon emissions energy generation to strategic locations,” said Joe Miller, President of BWXT Advanced Technologies.

In 2022, BWXT was selected DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office to build and demonstrate a TRISO-fuelled prototype mobile microreactor as part of Project Pele. The BANR (BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor) design is a 50 MWt transportable high-temperature gas-cooled microreactor. It was one of five selected in December 2020 by DOE to receive a share of $30m in initial funding for risk reduction projects under its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

The Crowley-BWXT concept differs from Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov floating NPP, which has been powering the Arctic town of Pevek since 2020. While the new concept involves a ship which uses conventional power carrying a microreactor, Russia’s FNPP was towed to the site by another vessel.

Image: The ship would be outfitted with microreactors to provide power to onshore facilities during emergency situations (courtesy of Crowley)

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