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Floating ships with small nuclear reactors to supply power to countries

Small modular reactors (SMRs) defined as nuclear reactors generally 300MWe equivalent or less. SMRs have generated global interest, and potential future applications are a subject of international research directives.  Their are around 50 different SMR designs worldwide according to the IAEA.  Project proposals include use of SMRs for desalination, process heat generation, biofuel conversion and military base installations.

 

In general, land-based NPPs have several inherent limitations including extensive land requirement, sophisticated infrastructure for connection to the grid, and continuous and high demand for cooling water. Therefore, floating NPPs have long been considered the alternative technological solution for electricity, heating, or water desalination in remote coastal towns and small islands, as they have been designed mostly based on reactors of less than 300 MWe and to be transportable with the use of barge or ship. For example, a floating NPP using an ACPR50 reactor can provide enough electricity for a community of about 100,000 people, or the daily water consumption for at least 60,000 people.

 

Russia has launched the world’s only floating nuclear reactor, beating countries like the US and China to the post. It  has been fully commissioned at a port in Siberia’s Far East, the nuclear utility Rosenergoatom reported in May 2020.In a statement, Andrei Petrov, the company’s head, said that that construction of the floating plant “could be considered complete,” and the Akademik Lomomosov was “now the eleventh commercially operating nuclear power plant in Russia and the northernmost worldwide.”

 

Russia is now experimenting with the use of nuclear-warmed water that is being pumped from a floating reactor into people’s homes in a remote Siberian town. Russia is first, but hardly an outlier, in developing small civilian reactors. In oct 2021,  President Emmanuel Macron of France proposed an expansion of his country’s extensive nuclear sector with small reactors as part of the solution to climate change. China is building small floating reactors modeled on Russian design.

Companies in the United States, including General Electric and Westinghouse, have about a dozen designs ready for testing starting in 2023. In an extreme example of miniaturization, the US military has ordered a reactor small enough to fit in a shipping container; two companies, BWXT and X-energy, are competing to deliver the air-cooled device.

Germany, however, has taken a different path: The country decided to close all of its nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

 

Russia is now experimenting with the use of nuclear-warmed water

Since May 2020, the world’s first floating nuclear power plant has been supplying electricity to the town of Pevek, and since the end of June, it has also been securing heating. The living conditions are harsh. The cold season lasts from September to June. Temperatures as low as minus 33 degrees Celsius are common and the Yushak, a wind that can be very harsh all year round, transforms the landscape into a snow desert within minutes in winter. Nevertheless, Pevek will boom, even if the population decreased from 12,000 people to about 4,000 between the 1980s and the 1990s. The reason is its location as a port on the Northeast Passage. This news, which at first glance seems unspectacular, proves to be a milestone in the economical development of Siberia. Although critics see the mobile nuclear power plant as a “floating Chernobyl,” the “Akademik Lomonosov” will become a driving force for the economic development of the region and for the exploitation of Siberian mineral resources for the next 40 years.

 

Nuclear residential heating has been introduced in the Arctic port community of Pevek, using energy generated on a nearby barge in the Arctic Ocean – previously dubbed Russia’s ‘floating Chernobyl’ by Greenpeace.  Developed by Russian state nuclear company Rosatom, it makes use of heat that’s vented as steam through the cooling towers of the barge’s nuclear fission plants, which would otherwise be wasted.

 

“It’s very exciting,” Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a telephone interview. These small reactors, he said, could also warm greenhouses or provide heat for industrial purposes. In bringing to life the new approach, he said, “the Russians are ahead.”

 

Nuclear-powered residential heating is distinct from running space or water heaters with electricity generated from nuclear sources. Direct nuclear heating, tried in small pockets of Russia and Sweden, circulates water between a power plant and homes, transferring heat directly from fissioning uranium atoms to residences.

Warming homes with nuclear power also has environmental benefits, advocates of the idea say. Primarily, it avoids wasting the heat that is typically vented as steam through the conical cooling towers of nuclear plants, and instead captures it for use in residential heating, if customers are fine with it.

Still, some experts are concerned about the potential risks, pointing to the many spills and accidents on Soviet and Russian submarines and icebreakers that used similar small reactors. Nuclear  submarines sank in 1989 and 2000, for example. “It is nuclear technology, and the starting point needs to be that it is dangerous,” said Andrei Zolotkov, a researcher with Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group. “That is the only way to think about it.”

 

The nuclear facility in Pevek is aboard the Akademik Lomonosov, a barge about the size of a city block. The idea of small reactors is not new. In the 1960s, before the anti-nuclear movement gained traction, they were seen as a promising technology. The United States operated a barge-based reactor to electrify the Panama Canal Zone from 1968 to 1976, and Sweden used nuclear heating in a suburb of Stockholm from 1963 to 1974.

 

Now, two other sites in Russia besides Pevek use nuclear residential heating; however, in those cases, it is a byproduct of large electrical plants. Soon, in Pevek, the town’s community steam bath, or banya, will also be nuclear-powered. The
Russian state nuclear company, Rosatom, connected the reactors to the heating pipes in one neighborhood in June 2020. It is now expanding the hot water service to the whole town, which has a population of about 4,500.

 

The plant’s two cores are cooled by a series of water loops. In each reactor, the first loop is contaminated with radioactive particles. But this water never leaves the plant. Through heat

 

The company promotes a number of safety features. The plant can withstand a crash by a small airplane. The vessel that holds it doubles as a containment structure. And the water circulating through buildings is at a higher pressure than the cooling loop from which it derives heat within the plant, in theory preventing a radiation leak from spreading into town.
Residents cannot opt out of getting nuclear-powered heat, but they have mostly welcomed the new plant. Maxim Zhurbin, the deputy mayor, said nobody complained at public hearings before the barge arrived.

 

Kirill Toropov, deputy director of the floating nuclear plant in Pevek, said its benefits were already visible locally, citing snow that is less sullied with coal soot. “We need to note this positive ecological moment,” he said.

 

NuScale Teams with Canadian Firm to Deploy its SMRs via Floating Platforms in May 2021

Nuscale logoSMR developer NuScale Power and Prodigy Clean Energy have agreed to work together to advance their technologies as a baseload clean energy solution for coastal locations and island nations. This week NuScale and Prodigy sign memorandum of understanding (MOU) to support business development for a marine-deployed nuclear generating station powered by the NuScale small modular reactor (SMR). This is the second MOU between the two firms.

 

Prodigy Clean Energy is a Canadian company that designs and develops marine nuclear plants for safe, affordable and sustainable energy generation. It specializes in integrating commercial SMRs into marine power plant systems for coastal power generation. Prodigy’s SMR Marine Power Station would be shipyard-fabricated, and marine-transported to its deployment location, where it would be moored in place in sheltered and protected waters at the shoreline. Once berthed, the plant would be connected to the existing shore-side transmission system thus avoiding some of the significant capital costs associated with terrestrial nuclear power plant deployments.

 

“We look forward to our continued work with NuScale Power to integrate their flexible, proven and advanced SMR technology into Prodigy’s marine plant system,” said Mathias Trojer, Prodigy Clean Energy Chief Executive Officer. “Our combined technologies can generate scalable clean energy at any coastal location. Together, we will rapidly expand the accessibility of safe, zero-emissions, and reliable energy globally, as well as to locations right here in Canada.”

 

NuScale Power and Prodigy Clean Energy have been collaborating since 2018, investigating the feasibility of integrating NuScale Power Modules (NPMs) into Prodigy’s Marine Power Station. Under the first MOU the two firms completed the conceptual design and economic assessment phases for the project.

 

Details about what has been accomplished so far remain under proprietary wraps. According to Diane Hughes, Vice President, Marketing & Communications for NuScale Power, no sites have been selected so far for the floating power stations nor did she name any potential customers.

 

“Deployment sites are currently under exploration,” Hughes said. “The NuScale and Prodigy MOU will support customer engagement efforts to develop demonstration and commercial opportunities.” Hughes added, “Customers for marine-deployed generating stations powered by NuScale Power Modules would include utilities and private companies needing anywhere from 100 MWe to approximately 900 MWe of power. The plants are suitable for deployment at any coastal location worldwide.”

 

In terms of time to market, Hughes said, “Prodigy’s marine-deployed generating station technology powered by NuScale Power Modules will be ready for power generation before 2030.” So far neither firm has released information on the specifications for the barge. Prodigy did not respond an email media inquiry about the new MOU. Cost of a Floating SMR is the Reactor, a Barge, and Towing to the Customer

 

A 12-pack or set of NuScale 77 MWe SMRs would provide a customer with 924 MWe of electrical power. According to a briefing on NuScale’s website, the capitalized construction cost per kW for the NuScale plant is $3,600/Kw for the “nth of a kind” factory manufactured unit. NuScale also offers smaller power plant solutions in 4-module (308 MWe) and 6-module (462 MWe) sizes.

 

Put another way, a 77 MWe SMR would cost about $277M not including differences such as site conditions, regional construction labor costs, and module transportation. The cost of a barge to permanently hold the reactor and the cost of towing it a customer site would be extra.

 

Danish company plans to fit ships with small nuclear reactors to send energy to developing countries

Floating barges fitted with advanced nuclear reactors could begin powering developing nations by the mid-2020s, according to a Danish startup company. Seaborg Technologies believes it can make cheap nuclear electricity a viable alternative to fossil fuels across the developing world as soon as 2025. Its seaborne “mini-nukes” have been designed for countries that lack the energy grid infrastructure to develop utility-scale renewable energy projects, many of which go on to use gas, diesel and coal plants instead.

 

Troels Schönfeldt, the chief executive of Seaborg, said the company’s 100-megawatt compact molten salt reactor would take two years to build and would generate electricity that would be cheaper than coal-fired power. Seaborg has raised about €20m (£18.3m) from private investors, including the Danish retail billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, and received the first of the necessary regulatory approvals within a four-phase process from the American Bureau of Shipping this week. Most developing nations have been unable to pursue nuclear energy because it requires a carefully managed regulatory regime to prevent nuclear accidents or proliferation of materials that could be used to create nuclear weapons.

 

Seaborg hopes to begin taking orders by the end of 2022 for the nuclear barges, which would be built in South Korean shipyards and towed to coastlines where they could be anchored for up to 24 years, he said.

 

Troels Schönefeldt co-founder and CEO, Troels Schönefeldt explains , ” The thing about fluoride salt that you can buy it in alternative healing stores because it’s a rock with healing abilities. But the fact that it’s a rock is quite important here. It melts at 500 degrees centigrade and we can dissolve uranium into it. We can then pump that liquid into a reactor and generate a lot of energy. All of that is nothing special. But the magic happens when there’s an accident, not if but when there’s an accident, because since this radioactive material is now contained in a rock, it doesn’t come out as a gas as it would in a conventional reactor. So instead, it can only come out as a liquid rock that solidifies like a lava. The safety features of the reactor inherent in the physics and chemistry of this rock, making the reactor very safe. And since safety is the fundamental cost of nuclear, it also means that we will have a very cheap technology.”

 

“We usually say there are three upsides. One is that it cannot melt down or explode, which is just explained. The second one is that it cannot be used for nuclear weapons. And then the third one is that we could burn nuclear waste. The only issue there is that currently the regulatory system doesn’t allow it. So therefore, we just pragmatically said, well, what we need is the energy, so let’s stop there. And then solve the regulatory burdens afterwards.”

 

One of these reactors would be able to supply electricity, clean water, heating, and cooling to 200 000 households. All with a carbon footprint as low as any other technology—and there are co-generation opportunities that would seem to lower it even further.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10169989/Russia-tests-nuclear-powered-showers-potential-climate-innovation.html

https://neutronbytes.com/2021/05/14/nuscale-launches-effort-to-deploy-floating-smrs/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/nuclear-power-barge

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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