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Sea life: floating nuclear power plants are compelling stuff

By Stuart Ballantyne - posted Wednesday, 3 April 2024

Nuclear energy is an extraordinary asset whose full potential we need to untap if we are to keep climate change in check. - Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) March 2024

About 20 years ago a seat warming Senator came out of hiding and declared his thought bubble that Australia's coast was getting overpopulated and that Australians should consider populating the centre of the country. I challenged the hapless Senator to lead "by example" and set up home in the Simpson Desert. In a column at the time I did comment hoping that his wife and kids would not accompany him, as it would be a shame to think there was more than one dope in the same family.

92% of Australians live within 50kms of the coast and rivers, that's what we like to do!


Base load power stations are subsequently within populated coastal areas and remote areas of Australia get their energy by using fossil-fuelled generators, largely from diesel transported past their door by ships to distribution centres then redelivered locally by trucks or barges.

As efforts to decarbonize global energy systems expand, one of the answers could be to use floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs).

Many countries have floating power stations in existing ports, diesel or gas powered. The Russians were the first in 2019 to place a 70MW FNPP, the Akademic Lomonosov into a remote town of Vilyuchinsk, in Far East Russia, replacing the shut down Bilibino NPP and the aging Chaunsk coal power plant.(I am informed by a colleague that the "must do" breakfast in Vilyuchinsk is toast and caviar).

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Symposium on floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs) took place from 14-15 November 2023 in Vienna. This meeting highlighted growing interest in installing small modular reactors (SMRs) and Micro Modular Reactors (MMRs) on floating barges or ships to provide clean electricity and heat for remote coastal locations, to decarbonize energy activities, by providing grid scale electricity, unlocking cost reductions through repeat production in shipyards.

Topan Setiadipura, the Co-Chair of the Symposium and Head of the Research Centre for Nuclear Reactor Technology (BRIN) in Indonesia said, "Floating NPPs are an interesting option for Indonesia as many power companies already have floating diesel or gas power plants. However, acquiring more information and knowledge is essential to understanding whether embarking countries like Indonesia could use FNPPs in the future to replace fossil-fuelled floating power plants". he said.

During the symposium, discussions focused on current and future designs of FNPPs and their uses. Participants also examined the specific challenges that the movability of FNPPs pose for their licensing, regulation, transportation and application of safeguards. Nuclear safety and security were discussed, including the extent to which the current standards and practices can, or cannot, be applied to FNPPs. The symposium's concluding session identified the next possible steps to enable the deployment of floating nuclear power plants, including the mechanism to improve communication between the nuclear and maritime industry on one hand, and regulators on the other, with focus on application of security and safeguards.


Singapore is already thinking about the possibility of using nuclear power, and it's sending people abroad to learn more about the technology. One issue for them is their lack of open space, which limits their ability to use utility-scale renewable energy farms. FNPPs will be a positive in the mix of energy strategies given Singapore's already significant amount of commercial waterfrontage well clear of residential areas.

Recently US based shipping company Crowley Maritime announced a memorandum of understanding with Virginia-based nuclear power company BWX Technologies to develop a ship concept that includes a microreactor for generating zero-carbon emission nuclear power for shoreside applications.

This FNPP ship would supply small-scale nuclear energy to shoreside locations, providing 50mW power to military bases, backup utility grids, and other situations where traditional electricity sources are not feasible.

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About the Author

Stuart Ballantyne is just a sailor who runs Seat Transport Solutions who are naval architects, consultants, surveyors and project managers.

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