Should we encourage nuclear proliferation?

No, not weapons but reactors. All those power plants spewing pollutants and CO2. Nuclear energy is cleaner and safer. We use nuclear reactors in submarines and aircraft carriers, so why not civilian vessels?

Define “encourage”. Nuclear ship propulsion is stupidly uncompetitive economically with conventional oil-fired powerplants.

If we as a society wanted to reduce greenhouse emissions then paying ships to carry nuclear reactors instead of oil-fired engines would be way, way, way down the list in terms of CO2 eliminated per dollar spent.

Not to mention the political issue that lots of ports don’t want nuclear merchant ships to call at all. See for more.

Late add: Reading the pages referenced at this wiki list is also informative about the challenges. None of which have gotten better since the 1960s and 1970s when most of this stuff was being done.

Because a nuclear reactor is overkill for what most civilian vessels need. A ship that is basically a floating box of shipping containers has no need to operate without an external air supply or power an entire airbase. It just needs to get from Point A to Point B as cheaply as possible, without sacrificing too much speed.

The Wiki page didn’t give any cost details, but if we were to encourage usage, then surely economies of scale would kick in?

Ships - particularly container ships - these days are much more massive than the 1960s.

Many various points aside.

I DO think the experience of the US Navy’s reactor program DOES show that if you embrace the KISS principle of engineering (and enforce the fuck out of the rules) that nuclear reactors are not much to be feared.

Or in other words…simple but doing it fucking right often betters…complex as fuck to keep from fucking it up…which results in some fuck up nobody ever thought of.

With the economics of the commercial shipping industry the implementation of a nuclear fleet for that usage does not seem very wise. I am pro nuclear, but this applicatoin is not a good idea. It would be better to provide the incentives for the adoption of the innovative wind-power retrofits or new vessals development.

What the US Navy Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program has shown is that you need to maintain a well-drilled crew of nuclear engineers and technicians who are subject to regular inspection (the dreaded Operational Reactor Safeguard Examination), the failure of which can curtail promotion or in the case of extreme negligence end a career. US Navy vessels utilizing nuclear propulsion systems are vessels of war with large operating budgets to support both the large number of highly trained crew to tend to the reactor and propulsion systems and spend considerable time at dock during refueling operations that would not be feasible for a commercial hauling vessel. The cost of enriched nuclear fuel alone

I cannot parse the second sentence above, but the issue with the failure of a nuclear reactor is that the criticality and persistence of a failure are far greater than a conventional oil-fired engine. An diesel-fired turbine can certainly fail in a number of ways, including catastrophic fire and explosion, potentially sinking the ship, killing the crew, and leaking petroleum fuel that has to be cleaned up. But a catastrophic failure on a nuclear reactor can release radioactive coolant or materials and produce persistent radiation at lethal levels for decades, so even if it can be argued that the safety record of nuclear powered vessels is substantially better than that of oil-fired systems, the potential consequences of even a single failure have to be weighed against the likelihood of failure. And a poorly managed nuclear propulsion system can have many costly failures, witness the many Soviet and Russian navy nuclear accidents.

Others have mentioned various concepts for wind- and hybrid-wind powered vessels, which actually makes a lot of sense as ships regularly experience high wind energy conditions. The flat open area of the ocean is ideal for developing and using wind power, and of course, prior to the development of the steam boiler virtually all ocean shipping was done using wind power.


In case anybody was wondering…I WAS not argueing that the USN’s record of operating nuclear reactors aboard subs and other vessels as a reason TO DO SO among other sea fairing boats/ships/whatever you naval pendants insist on calling them.

What I WAS point out that whatever the USN does regarding the design,construction, operation, and whatever of nuclear reactors should be looked at as to how to “do things right”.

Not the ONLY thing obviously…but then again…they certainly are NOT a bunch of fuck ups in that regard either.

As to Stranger on a Train and the second sentence…well, just think harder about it.

Even more are cruiser liners, like this little runabout, theOvation of the Seas which just docked on Sydney. Do you reckon the paying public would flock to this floating hotel & amusement park in their thousands were it nuclear powered?

Why wouldn’t they? They flock to see the US’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

So when Royal Caribbean International were designing their new Quantum Class liners, how long do you reckon they considered the cost-benefit analysis of having them nuclear powered?

It’s very expensive to run a nuclear vessel. Who’s going to pay for it?

Proliferation of nuclear reactors and their technology *is *proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear power gets more expensive by the second. Why do pro-nuke types always think we live in some Star Trek utopia with unlimited money? It didn’t happen in the 1950’s as they promised, and it’s never going to happen.

Yeah I know right?

With all that coal in the air we will soon have free fuel just floating around for the taking.

If you’re willing to throw ungodly amounts of money at it, coal can be burned cleanly too. But when we say “that’s expensive” oddly enough, people listen. When it comes to nuke energy, I never hear “how much will it cost?” Suddenly it’s “environment at all costs! Don’t talk to me about money! let’s do this thing!”

Is it? Got a cite for that? And remember I’m expecting economies of scale to kick in.

Got a cite for that too?

Interesting to note that most civil nuclear vessels are used for ice breaking, which as I understand isn’t going to be much of a problem once the arctic melts. Who knows though? As with all things nuclear, keep dreaming, the “nuclear renaissance” will happen any day now, just like it has been since the 50’s. Hey, let’s wait for fusion ships! Yeah, that’s the ticket. Any day now. I’ve heard.

Economy of scale as never worked with nuclear.


It’s a good counter point to the use of nuclear power with regard to carbon abatement and climate change.

“Navy Nuclear-Powered Surface Ships: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, September 29, 2010:In constant FY2007 dollars, the initial fuel core for a Virginia (SSN-774) class submarine cost about $170 million, and the initial fuel cores for an aircraft carrier (which uses two reactors and therefore has two fuel cores) had a combined cost of about $660 million.

And you can’t just waive around “economies of scale” like a magic wand. If you want to claim that nuclear propulsion is economically viable for commercial shipping, the onus is on you to demonstrate that through some kind of factual basis or rational estimate, not just argue that if no one can prove that it isn’t workable then it must be feasible.


Perhaps you need to re-read my OP? You might notice that the word ‘cheaper’ does not appear.

Anyway, from the summary page of your link:

Crude oil has certainly been over $75 per barrel. I’ll read the rest of that document in the morning.

We’ve spent billions rounding up loose nuclear materials to get it of countries that can’t secure it on their own. Why on earth would we want to put it in conveniently portable containers under civilian control.