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Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Savannah, America's first nuclear powered ship

This is ripped off from Brian Wang's Next Big Future:
Air pollution from commercial shipping kills 60,000 people per year.

Converting all commercial ships to run on nuclear power would be economic even without considering carbon taxes or fees.

In 2000, there were 6800 container ships in the world. At the cold war peak the Soviets had or had almost built about 400 nuclear powered ships and the USA had over 200.

Factory mass produced small nuclear reactors like the one being developed by Hyperion Power Generation or variants of the pebble bed reactor being made in China or new liquid flouride thorium reactor proposals would all work for total nuclearizing commercial shipping. There would also be the benefit that the ships would need to rarely stop for refueling and in general could operate at faster speed.
I'm not certain about the air pollution deaths figure, having seen what nonsense has been claimed over passive smoking but since total nuclear deaths over the last 17 years have totaled 2 it is clearly a positive point.

Hyperion Power Generation is developing a new power source called the Hyperion Hydride Reactor, a sealed fission reactor that can supply power to a small community. Although the portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub, when it's hooked up to a steam turbine, the reactor can generate enough electricity to power a community of 25,000 homes for at least five years. As it is self-contained and involves no moving parts, the reactor doesn’t require a human operator and is considered "extremely safe". Some experts, however, are still questioning the logic of using even this relatively safe kind of nuclear energy. These experts are worried about the pollution created in the process of extracting the radioactive ore, and by the storage problems of the spent nuclear fuel (some "experts" can be relied on to oppose nuclear under all circumstances whatsoever) .

I am in 2 minds about the Hyperion generator. On the 1 hand it clearly can do what it says providing power cheaply, safely & reliably to communities at a lesser price than conventional systems. On the second hand it seems a complicated & expensive, [per kwh, way of generating power compared to more common 1 GW or 600 mw plants. This expense will be reduced by turning them out on a production line basis but mass production of a bigger reactor is almost equally possible. What I think we are seeing is a market niche for lots of small units which will not attract the level of political antagonism that conventional reactors do, added to the fact that, since they are bought ready for use there is less time for the nutters to camp on the doorstep. Nonetheless mass produced conventional sized reactors will have substantially lower engineering costs & in a world run sensibly that is what we would have. On the gripping hand perhaps this is the best we can get in this world.

In any case Brian is clearly right that if the equivalent of 10% of the world's shipping was once nuclear a far higher amount could be now. I do foresee some political problems with some of the sillier countries & cities banning them but then the great advantage they have over fixed sites is that they can choose to go where they are wanted. Since this would bring down the cost of international shipping it would also mean that the more Luddite countries & cities would lose trade which is, after all, their choice, but the effect of the choice would be immediate rather than paid by the next generation as our failure to replace current generators will be. An interesting side option is that as, particularly in Europe, we face the increasing likelihood of blackouts, such ship when in port, could hook up to the grid & sell their power at the local going rate.

The Russians are also going to mass produce floating nuclear power stations which can be bought for cities like this which will be in place in 2010. However at $336 for a 70mw generator (Westinghouse do a 1,000 mw for $1.2-$1.5 bn) it is clear that they could only be needed for places easily linked to a national grid if politics was preventing Westinghouse building.

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Cool! Only a couple of weeks ago I was wondering, on a libertarian mailing list, why we had had submarine sized nuclear power plants for decades and nobody had produced something I could put in a local plant room for community combined heat and power.

Hyperion looks like just the thing (though an even smaller size would be good too IMO - this one would feed half of a city the size of Oxford - I wouldn't mind a much more local community one.
Dear Neil

"Russians are also starting mass producing floating nuclear power stations which can be bought for cities indeed this one is already working"

That picture is so obviously a computer generated graphic. As the wikipedia article you robbed the picture from says:

"An artist rendition of the Academician Lomonosov".

The real thing is due to be completed in 2010.
My apologies you are right.
A floating Chernobyl!
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