South Korean industry, led by the leaders in maritime transport Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) and Janggeum Merchant Marine (Sinokor), have joined forces to develop nuclear-powered ships. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) to that effect was signed by nine organisations. These included the city of Gyeongju, Gyeongbuk province, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), Korean Research Institute of Ship & Ocean Engineering (KRISO), the Korean Registry of Shipping, Wooyang Merchant Marine and H Line Shipping as well as Sinokor and HMM.

The signatories to the MOU aim to demonstrate how small modular reactors (SMRs) can be used for navigation. The project will also examine development of the interface between the relevant marine system and SMR propulsion technology, as well as the production of hydrogen using molten salt reactors. The parties agreed to work to promote the safety of the maritime nuclear system; to develop industrial infrastructure; train experts in maritime nuclear operation; and design the required regulatory framework.

The partners will jointly develop a molten salt reactor (MSR) suitable for use in marine vessels. They noted that with MSRs, there would be no need to replace nuclear fuel during operation. Moreover, in the event of a problem inside the reactor, the molten salt would solidify, preventing a serious accident. Its compact design also makes it easy to load large quantities of cargo.

"Nuclear power is the best energy source for responding to climate change and realizing carbon neutrality because there is no carbon emission during electricity production," said North Gyeongsang Governor Lee Cheol-woo. "We will lead the nuclear power renaissance and build a global innovative nuclear power industrial ecosystem centred on the Pan East Sea."

Last month, South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries announced it had completed the conceptual design for the CMSR Power Barge - a floating nuclear power plant based on compact MSRs It also obtained the basic certification of the design from the American Bureau of Shipping. The company plans to commercialise the CMSR Power Barge by 2028 once the detailed design of all of the plant's power generation facilities has been completed.

Interest in the development of nuclear power for marine propulsion is gaining ground as shipping companies look to meet the ever-stricter emission reduction regulations. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set a plan which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50% compared with 2008 by 2050.

Image: Representatives from the nine organisations mark the signing of the MOU (courtesy of KAERI)

Date: Thursday, 16 February 2023
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