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Why nuclear power would be catastrophic for the shipping industry

Why nuclear power would be catastrophic for the shipping industry
Sam Chambers October 29, 2020

Nuclear power being used to propel ships could be catastrophic, according to one of the most famous names in shipping, but the damage would be to the fundamental shipping markets rather than the usual environmental concerns about using atomic energy.

Speaking at a shipping webinar organised by the Norwegian Business Association Singapore yesterday, Andreas Sohmen-Pao, the chairman of BW Group, discussed multiple fuels of the future. On nuclear, he warned of the potentially huge market shifts the fuel could bring to shipping.

Nuclear power for shipping has been making headlines this year, and Sohmen-Pao said BW had looked at three nuclear-related companies recently.

On the possible advent of nuclear powered ships becoming widespread in merchant shipping, Sohmen-Pao said: “The change in the industry is going to be massive and maybe catastrophic because you will have ships going 50% faster because the fuel is essentially free once you’ve paid the up front capex investment and the tanks will be empty because you will have cheap electricity around the world without intermittency.”

He argued that in the advent that safe nuclear technology is developed on land and at sea there would be far less ships needed as vessels would travel faster and they would not be needed to transport energy. Approximately 40% of the world’s fleet today carries energy.

“It’s probably a long way off,” Sohmen-Pao conceded.

Speaking on the same panel, Laurence Odfjell, chairman of Odfjell Group, said nuclear power for ships was a “long shot” as ships move around the world and would then need approval from authorities across the globe. It was more likely safe new nuclear technology would be deployed at fixed locations, Odfjell suggested.

Mikal Bøe, founder of marine nuclear battery company CORE-POWER suggested in an article for Splash last month: “The reality is that the only viable technology which can deliver a durable combination of close-to-zero emissions, marine-level reliability, walk-away safety and competitive economics, is atomic energy.”

“I think that in 50 years nuclear molten-salt-reactors will be par for the course in the shipping industry, and we will look back at the current time and wonder why we dabbled in alternative pathways for greenhouse gas-free propulsion,” Bjørn Højgaard, the CEO of Hong Kong shipmanager Anglo-Eastern told sister title Splash Extra last month.