Why nuclear could be the viable nuclear option

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Engel de Boer of Lloyd's Register talks about the nuclear option as Giedo Loeff of Feadship watches on.

Engel de Boer of Lloyd's Register talks about the nuclear option as Giedo Loeff of Feadship watches on.

A nuclear option is an extreme and unlikely course of action, but in superyachts the future could be, well, nuclear.

It might induce a cold sweat in some, but for others nuclear power is a natural evolution of energy technology.

WATCH: ‘What is the future power source for sustainable yachting?’

For owners keen to future-proof a yacht, the key is a platform capable of adapting to different fuels, according to a panel of leading experts at our Superyacht Investor London 2024 conference. Optimising efficiency onboard, including thermally and in hull design based on the yacht’s likely operational profile, is also crucial. Fuels such as biodiesel, methanol and hydrogen are on the table, depending on an owner’s motivation, risk tolerance and attitude towards sustainability.

But the nuclear option is just over the hill and the clamours are getting louder. The technology, it seems, is not the main barrier. Public perception and stringent regulations are.

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What follows is an edited transcript of the nuclear conversation during a panel on future power sources, featuring Simon Brealey, chief mechanical engineer, Lateral Naval Architects; Giedo Loeff, head of R&D, Feadship; Matteo Magherini, head of business development, RINA; and Engel de Boer, yacht segment director, Lloyd’s Register.

De Boer: The biggest challenge to mankind at the moment is energy. Realistically, I would say HVO [hydrotreated vegetable oil] fuel is happening now in conjunction with batteries. There’s a slow move towards methanol and hydrogen in various forms as storage of energy, and on the horizon, and I’m talking about 10 years, perhaps even earlier, you’ll see nuclear definitely in the mix. It is happening as we speak in the commercial shipping world.

Please, I ask you, if you walk away with anything here today, please dive into molten salt reactors and heat rods etc. Find out what they are all about and that they are actually inherently safe. You will see hospitals in the future having their own little reactors. It is something which will definitely happen, yet we are still stuck within our usual traditional way of thinking.

We have to change. Change is happening and the rate of change will be exponential over the next couple of years. Not just because of the situation which we are in worldwide, but also because of the regulations.

Magherini: When it comes to the energy transition and what we are facing as a society, it is very interesting that we have to break some wrong stigma or dogma. There is another problem with nuclear, which is obviously public opinion. But when you look at the different types of energy, for instance, solar, which in public opinion is considered the most green, it actually has four times the impact of CO2 emission per kilowatt compared with nuclear. So right now, in the real world where there is no way of actually generating energy without having an impact, nuclear is the best thing that we have. So we definitely have to have a look at it.

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Brealey: I think nuclear is fantastic and I am a firm advocate for it in the right application. But a nuclear reactor is a bit like a puppy at Christmas. It’s not for Christmas, it’s for life. How you deal with that lifelong commitment to look after a nuclear reactor as a private individual is really challenging. I would love to see molten salt reactors on commercial ships and on land-based applications.

However, I don’t see nuclear and yachting going together.

De Boer: When we come back to this conference in 10 years’ time, I’m pretty sure you’re going to talk about it differently.

Brealey: When you buy a nuclear reactor, how do you make sure that it gets correctly decommissioned?

De Boer: By the looks of things, these nuclear reactors do not need to be decommissioned. And even if you had to, compared with the decomposition of any sort of engine using fossil fuels, the actual footprint of it and the half-life of whatever is left is limited to 80-100 years instead of 1,000 or 100,000 years. So the entire technology is completely different. And actually, you shouldn’t be buying a nuclear reactor. It’s a renting agreement, you don’t own it; the manufacturer is in charge and responsible for the maintenance.

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Loeff: I would also say technology-wise, [nuclear] is feasible. But there will be massive challenges for various parties to operate, build and source a nuclear reactor. It will have a dramatic impact on the yards. It is not just a simple box you slot in. Much relates to health of people onboard and the surroundings.

You cannot overstate the requirements from an operational standpoint. How do you decommission? How do you source it? What are the trade agreements that need to be made between nations, between us and our governments, with our clients? How they do that I can’t ever see.

I am sure we would not be allowed to build it now. There are a lot of big barriers, which are not so technology driven.

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De Boer: In response to the question about what happens when a nuclear-powered tanker crashes or sinks, the funny thing is that the biggest waste from that particular crash is the tanker. It is not the nuclear waste. We have experienced more than 70 years and more than 700 units which sail the seas with nuclear power.

The technology behind it is that if you have a crash or if you were to throw a bomb at it, the molten salt will solidify and will sink to the bottom. You can actually pick it up and you can move it somewhere else safely because it’s contained within a container. Whereas, if you sail into a tanker and you spoil the fossil fuel, it will take you a long, long time for it to be cleaned. It is all about perception. It really is time to have another look at the technology properly.

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