Why nuclear energy should be powering shipping safely by 2050

Posted by Wade Allison on 16 December 2022 in Articles

Tagged with: Core Power, MSR, SMR, Shipping.

Slides with notes of a brief talk given at the first international in-person conference for shipping interests organised by CORE POWER at the Science Museum, 6 Oct 2022.

1. Just enough time to answer three questions of importance to the future of shipping.

Introduction: Why nuclear should be the dominant source of world energy by 2050, Why a maritime Molten Salt Reactor is ideally safe and controllable, Why nuclear radiation is safer then fire – in fact almost harmless.

2. What sources of energy are available in principle that are powerful enough, reliable enough and have a tolerable environmental impact?
Surprisingly there are only three candidates. Of these, only nuclear satisfies all requirements, except that it is thought to be unsafe.

The only primary sources of energy available on Earth: Renewables, Fossil fuels, Nuclear fission. Chart showing the origin and usage of these primary energy sources.

3. In the context of an atmospheric pressure molten-salt-cooled Small Modular nuclear Reactor powering a large ship, is this safety concern a severe constraint?
No, there are four levels of protection shown as boxes: 1) passive safety, as the temperature rises the reactor switches off; 2) the sea provides natural cooling capacity; 3) the low pressure prevents ejection of radioactivity; 4) evolution over billions of years has ensured that low and moderate exposure to nuclear radiation is essentially harmless.

Chart showing radiation cycles in nuclear machines and in humans.

4. The natural protection afforded by evolution may be surprising but it is well established and is exploited in the cure of cancer. But in 1955 because of the nuclear arms race the dangers of radiation were exaggerated 1000 times.

Safety of Nuclear Radiation. It has been studied for 125 years. Picture of Marie Curie, who worked on it all her life. In 1955, safety requirements were increased 1000 times 'as a precaution'.

5. The exaggerated danger of a monthly radiation dose, as defined by regulations, is compared graphically with what is received beneficially for personal health. The yellow area is accepted as worth the risk in radiotherapy treatment. The green area shows no record of harm to life. The white dot, also shown expanded, is the monthly radiation exposure widely accepted as the limit for public exposure, according to regulations.

Nuclear radiation is safe for life at low and moderate rates. Chart showing month dose rates with medical outcomes.

Evidently the world needs to reconsider the nuclear radiation regulation recommendations of the United Nations. Anyway, the dangers from the application of nuclear energy to shipping are very much smaller than widely supposed.