In an announcement made earlier this month, Danish nuclear energy firm Seaborg said that it has passed a necessary feasibility test allowing it to construct small nuclear reactors on ships that would directly supply electricity to power grids. The feasibility test by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) was the first among related regulatory approvals required, which would be followed by the ABS’ New Technology Qualification process.
Following the initial clearance by the ABS, Seaborg’s Chief Executive Troels Schönfeldt said the company’s 100 MW compact molten salt reactor would take two years to build and would generate electricity that would be cheaper than coal-fired thermal power. A Seaborg statement described the ABS clearance as “an important milestone towards (our) ambitious target to deploy the first commercial power barge by 2025.”
Seaborg’s compact molten salt reactor is designed to be installed on barges that can be transported to any country connected to the sea, in order to produce clean electricity and transmit the power to the mainland. The ships have been designed to be fitted with one or more small nuclear reactors which can generate power for countries that lack the infrastructure to develop utility-scale clean energy projects, and continue, instead, to depend mostly on fossil fuels for producing electricity.
Seaborg said it hopes to begin taking orders by the end of 2022 for the nuclear barges, which would be built in South Korean shipyards and towed to coastlines where they could be anchored for up to 24 years. “The scale of the developing world’s energy demand growth is mind-boggling. If we can’t find an energy solution for these countries, they will turn to fossil fuels and we surely won’t meet our climate targets”, Schönfeldt said.
Seaborg’s reactors are designed to provide clean and affordable electricity worldwide, while the company plans to start its journey with growth regions such as Southeast Asia.The firm’s first such ships will have two nuclear reactors installed for delivering 200 MW power. Over their lifetime, these reactors will offset a minimum of 33,600,000 tons of carbon dioxide normally released by a coal-fired power plant of equal capacity, the company statement said. According to CEO Schönfeldt, “the maritime approach reduces time, project risk, and cost dramatically. We can leverage a highly efficient manufacturing industry with decades of experience, high safety standards, and a production capacity unlike any other”.
“The world needs energy, but we also need to decarbonise. With a highly competitive product, using existing production capacity, we can deploy hundreds of reactors every year – we are geared for global impact,” Schönfeldt said. “The scale of the developing world’s energy demand growth is mind-boggling. If we can’t find an energy solution for these countries, they will turn to fossil fuels and we surely won’t meet our climate targets”, he added.
At the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom-organised NEXT 75 conference held last week in Sochi, dedicated to the main problems confronting the future of civilisation, the Science Council for Global Initiatives President Thomas Blees said the fastest and most efficient way to deal with the issue of energy security is for small self-contained nuclear plants on board ships, which could then travel via sea and make shore stops to sell power to many countries. He noted how Russia has already shown the way in this direction with the floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) Admiral Lomonosov commissioned by Rosatom earlier this year. “Building large nuclear plants is very expensive, while most governments lack such resources. Instead, the electricity costs such FNPP work out to $1 per watt,” Blees said. “It is estimated that such ships (FNPPs) with total capacity of 400 gigawatt (GW) can be built in a year, using unused shipyards”, he added.
The concept of atomic energy onboard seaborne vessels is not new and Russia already has an operating fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers, while the FNPP Admiral Lomonosov has started supplying both electricity and heat to the city of Pevek in Siberia. Schönfeldt said that Seaborg’s proposed floating reactors are designed to be as safe as possible in a worst-case scenario accident, with a safety system causing the radioactive material to form a solid rock outside the reactor core so it cannot disperse into the air or sea as a harmful gas or liquid.