Offshore nuclear power concept under development by BWXT and Crowley

September 21, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News
Conceptual art of the Crowley-designed ship with a BWXT microreactor onboard. (Image: BWXT)

BWX Technologies is teaming with Crowley, a global shipping and energy supply chain company, under a memorandum of understanding to develop a ship with an onboard microreactor that could deliver power to users on shore via buoyed power cables. The concept, announced by both companies on September 20, is envisioned as a zero-carbon energy option for defense and disaster needs.

BWXT’s Advanced Technologies subsidiary will work with Crowley to “jointly pursue and develop opportunities” for the design, engineering, and development of new shallow-draft hull ships to supply “small-scale nuclear energy” to power 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 concept: The new vessel concept envisions a 378-foot ship designed by Crowley Engineering Services with “the latest technology available for factory fabricated microreactors, readily deployed into a shipyard configuration for ease of installation on the vessel.” Shallow draft hulls would permit the ship to maneuver close to shore to “strategically deliver power for military activities or if disasters limit harbor access.”

The new vessel concept would use conventional propulsion technology to reach a destination, where the 5–50-megawatt reactor onboard would be “activated upon arrival.” Buoyed power delivery cables would deliver electricity from the reactor to its onshore destination. The reactor would then be “deactivated and transported after the power supply is discontinued.”

BWXT is developing a high-temperature, helium-cooled, TRISO-fueled microreactor called BANR (BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor), capable of delivering up to 50 MWt of power. While BANR is not specifically named in the companies’ September 20 announcement, BWXT’s website describes BANR as a “terrestrial microreactor” that is “small and light enough to be transported via rail, ship, or truck.” BANR has received Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program funding from the Department of Energy under the “Risk Reduction” pathway.

They said it: “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. This concept supports the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal of maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology as well as many [of] the U.S. Department of Defense’s strategic goals for operational energy,” said Shiju Zacharia, senior vice president and general manager of Crowley Government Solutions.

BWXT has supplied nuclear components and fuels under government contract for decades and is currently working on two DOD microreactor applications—Project Pele (a terrestrial mobile microreactor deliverable in shipping containers for demonstration at Idaho National Laboratory) and DRACO (the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, a nuclear thermal rocket demonstration project led by the DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration in cooperation with NASA).

“We are excited to work alongside Crowley to leverage our ongoing reactor development and demonstration programs 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.

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