September 30, 2010
Nuclear power for LNG carriers?
Babcock International Group's Marine Division has completed a study to investigate the commercial implications of developing a nuclear-powered LNG carrier. Among its findings, the study has identified that recently updated legislation and available classification society rules allow for a fresh approach to the design of nuclear powered vessels.
A number of factors have led to a recent renewal of interest in nuclear power for commercial ships. These include concerns over CO2 emissions and the rising price of fossil fuels. Meantime, development of nuclear propulsion has been ongoing over the years (largely centered on icebreakers) with recent papers concluding that nuclear propulsion for high speed containerships is technically feasible. And, of course, there are quite a number of nuclear powered naval vessels.
According to Lloyd's Register, some 600 or so nuclear reactors are operating in the world today, of which approximately one third are serving at sea.
Babcock's high level study was undertaken to determine the commercial feasibility of utilizing nuclear power for the main propulsion and auxiliary power generation on board an LNG carrier. The company believes that a number of benefits could be realized. Low emissions are among them: the nuclear plant would eliminate CO2, NOx and SOx emissions. Additionally, the vessel's large power generation requirements would be supplied by a relatively compact power source, yielding a space savings that would maximize cargo capacity. Other benefits would include a significant reduction in noise generation.
Babcock's investigation and report covered aspects of nuclear vessels ranging from engineering and design issues, recent technical developments, and statutory regulations, to operational aspects, through-life maintenance, training requirements, and vessel disposal.
The Integrated Technology unit of Babcock's Marine division has many years' experience in complex vessel concept work and on LNG projects. Further, Babcock's Marine division is the sole UK in-service support contractor for the Royal Navy's nuclear submarines, undertaking refits and upgrades, supporting operational submarines, and providing engineering design and technical support services. Babcock specialists in ship design, nuclear plant systems installation, maintenance, and decommissioning were involved in undertaking the feasibility study.
Babcock's Integrated Technology commercial projects director David Dobson said that the study indicates that particular routes and cargoes lend themselves well to the nuclear propulsion option, and that technological advances in reactor design and manufacture have made the option more appealing. It has also confirmed significant benefits in terms of environmental impact and sustainability. Further, in reviewing the latest updated legislation, it is evident that newly issued design codes from Lloyds Register allow the design of nuclear powered vessels to be re-visited. On the other hand, initial capital costs are high (although they will reduce significantly when more applications for commercially produced marine reactors are found) and commercially available building and maintenance facilities would need to be established if significant numbers of these ships were to be planned.
"Nuclear power for commercial vessels is becoming significantly more attractive on a number of counts, not least from an environmental perspective, but there are a great many issues to weigh and consider in determining the feasibility of nuclear propulsion for any commercial vessel," Mr. Dobson says. "Our knowledge and experience puts us in a particularly strong position to identify and advise operators on these issues. We have worked with several of the major operators in the marine and oil and gas sectors on a number of ground-breaking developments in FPSOs and LNG vessels over the years, and are delighted to be again investigating new ground."