Core Power thinks nuclear will make waves in commercial shipping

November 5, 2020, 9:40AMNuclear News

Illustration of Core Power’s modular MSR concept. Image: Core Power

Core Power is a tiny startup that is bullish on the prospects for nuclear-powered ocean transportation. The company announced on November 2 that it is part of a team that has applied for a cost-shared award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to build a prototype molten salt reactor (MSR). Core Power believes that MSRs could be used for propulsion or electricity generation to decarbonize the world’s commercial shipping fleet.

Based in London, England, Core Power is the only non-U.S. member of the team, which includes TerraPower, Southern Company, and Orano USA. As a marine engineering firm, Core Power says that it offers its ARDP partners “access to pent-up demand from a market with real customers.” An announcement of ARDP “risk reduction for future demonstrations” award winners is expected in December.

Design and logistics: Core Power describes its modular Marine Molten Salt Reactor (m-MSR) concept as a zero-carbon energy source needing no refueling during the reactor’s lifetime, capable of dramatically changing shipping logistics by eliminating the refueling stops that diesel-powered ships require. The company says m-MSRs could be ready for deployment by 2030, a similar time frame to those of a host of other advanced reactor developers.

Founded just two years ago, Core Power is a small startup with big plans. Its new partner, TerraPower, has been developing fast reactor designs since it was launched in 2008 and has an MSR design of its own that is likely more ready for prototyping—a molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR) designed to “[meet] many [DS2] of the needs of industries with high energy consumption.” In 2016, a five-year, $40 million DOE cost-shared award for continued MCFR research and development went to a group including TerraPower, Southern Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Vanderbilt University.

Zero-carbon motivation: The United Nation’s International Maritime Organization has mandated that shipping reduce emissions by 50 percent of the 2008 total before 2050, and to meet that goal, as many as 60,000 ships would need to transition from fossil fuels to zero-emission propulsion, according to Core Power.

“The implications of the MSR for transport and industry could be transformational, as we seek to build scale-appropriate technology and broad acceptance of modern and durable liquid-fueled atomic power to shape the future of how we deal with climate change,” said Mikal Bøe, chief executive officer of Core Power.

How could it work? Operating ships could potentially be retrofitted with MSRs to provide propulsion, electricity, or process heat, according to Core Power. Older or smaller ships that may not benefit from a retrofit could meet zero-carbon goals by burning hydrogen or ammonia produced using electricity or heat from a nuclear reactor.

Core Power sees the decarbonization of ocean transportation happening in two stages: First, from 2024 to 2028, an existing fleet of about 40,000 smaller ships could convert to using zero-carbon fuels such as hydrogen or ammonia that could be produced from terrestrial or floating plants powered by MSRs. Then new, larger ships could be designed to use MSRs for electricity and propulsion.

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