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Nuclear Propulsion in High-Performance Cargo Vessels

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It has been about 40 years since nuclear-powered merchant ships were seriously discussed in the naval architecture community. But recent developments in commercial shipping include bigger, faster, and more powerful ships, where nuclear propulsion may be an option worth considering. The development of advanced ship designs opens an opportunity for high-speed maritime transportation that could create new markets and recover a fraction of the high value goods currently shipped only by air. One of the vessels being considered is FastShip, a large monohull ship that would require 250 MW in 5 gas turbine-waterjet units. An estimate of the operation cost of FastShip reveals that its success relies heavily, among other things, on the fuel price, a single factor that comprises more than one third of the total operating costs. The alternative, a nuclear FastShip, would save, per trip, almost 5000 tons of exposure to fuel price fluctuation, and about half of this savings would further be available for additional cargo and revenues. Nuclear power results in a more stable operation due to the relatively constant low price of nuclear fuel. The nuclear power option is suitable for high-power demand and long-haul applications and a reactor pack could be available within the decade. A candidate design would be the helium-cooled reactor, which has been revisited by several nuclear reactor design teams worldwide. For the FastShip a suggested plant would consist of two modular helium reactors, each one with two 50 MW helium turbines and compressors geared to waterjet pumps, plus a single 50 MW gas turbine. This vessel becomes more expensive to build but saves in fuel, and still provides margin for cost, weight and size optimization. This paper discusses general characteristics of a FastShip with such a nuclear power plant and also highlights the benefits, drawbacks, pending issues and further opportunities for nuclear-powered high-speed cargo ships.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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  • Marine Technology is dedicated to James Kennedy, 1867-1936, marine engineer, and longtime member of the Society, in recognition and appreciation of his sincere and generous interest in furthering the art of ship design, shipbuilding, ship operation, and related activities.

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