Why don't we have nuclear cruise ships?

Every modern cruise ship I read up on have top speeds of just 22 or 21 knots. I imagine when they cruise the speed is much slower. SS United States could get up to 38 knots. Could a couple of nuclear reactors drastically improve the speed of today’s lumbering giant all-inclusive resorts at sea? Would people want to dart around the Caribbean Sea at a faster clip? I just think it would interesting, and even environmentally positive if more bunker oil burning ships went nuclear.

LNG is poised to be the new fuel for cruise ships. Not sure about nuclear


I don’t think speed is of interest to the Cruise Lines. They’re not really going anywhere in a hurry.

A Nuclear Power Plant probably wouldn’t mean an increase in speed in the ungainly floating hotels that are the modern cruise ships. If it were more economical to run a Nuke plant that to burn oil, they would be looking into it.

SS United States was built just after the War and was meant for crossing Oceans and passing through the canals. Speed was more important and air travel was pretty expensive.

The answers seem pretty obvious but here are three reasons that kill the idea stone dead:

Many countries would not allow a nuclear-powered ship into their ports.

Speed is not desirable for a ship that is essentially a floating hotel. The one I spent the last couple of weeks on cruised at a leisurely 17 knots, which, I assume, is its most economical speed.

A high proportion of potential customers would not want to sail on a nuclear powered ship.

I understand that he is slated for the Captain’s Berth:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesco_Schettino :smack:

It takes a lot more money to build/maintain and a lot more government permissions to run a nuclear power plant on a ship. Looking at the few merchant cargo vessels that use nuclear, I’m not seeing anything that shows they have more speed at similar tonnages to the SS United States.

Nukes are great for spending long, uninterrupted periods at sea. All the fuel is in the reactor, not in giant fuel bunkers, leaving lots of room to store food, munitions, and sailors, all of which means they can patrol the open ocean for months in between port calls. But it’s expensive to own and operate. That cost is justifiable for national defense for the aforementioned reasons, but not so much for a cruise ship that stays close to shore and stops in a port every few days anyway.

Also, imagine hearing on the evening news that heavily armed pirates boarded a cruise ship and stole nuclear material. If you’d like to not imagine hearing that, then your cruise ship operating budget will need to include funds for a heavily armed security detail to ensure something like that never happens. This is not a problem for the US Navy, since a carrier battle group constitutes adequate security against a pirate boarding party.

Now the Queen Mary II is a Ocean Crossing Luxury Cruise Ship. She is rated for 30 knots but her job is a little different that most. She cruises are 26 knots doing London to NYC.

All true, and from a starting point where nuclear is far more expensive (life cycle not only upfront) at that scale. It’s justified in submarines on the basis of air independence, although there are now proven forms of non-nuclear sub air independent propulsion, they do have much less high speed endurance. It’s justified in aircraft carriers based mainly on logistics (the carrier’s much greater ability to carry conventional fuel for its a/c and escorts if nuclear powered) though it’s not an unassailable argument. The USN’s ‘nuclear union’ has mainly given up even trying to justify nuclear propulsion for other surface warships. Every once in a while they put something out about how it would make sense, with their very nuclear-friendly estimates of nuclear costs, if oil was $200/bbl or something. Nuclear arctic icebreakers are another idea which has been pursued, by the Russians not the US.

Where people are investing their own, not taxpayer, money nuclear propulsion in merchant ships, including cruise ships, is a complete non-starter.

Pretty sure the Master did a column about this. Try a search in the archives.

Nuclear propulsion in warships was primarily done to allow submarines to operate submerged for extended periods, use in aircraft carrier was to extend range and make more room for more aircraft, aviation fuel and such.

There were nuclear powered merchants to thehttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/NS_Savannah

Doubt the cruise ship industry is interested in spending time and money trying to develop such a vessel anyway

Cruise ships have to pay a fee when they’re docked. On some cruises, they’ll get out of the port and then functionally idle for hours. There’s no economic benefit to them for going faster between most ports. The long hauls tend to be repositioning cruises on many routes, so although speed might help there, on either end they’re doing slow, short hops.

Also, higher speed would increase pitch and yaw despite stabilizers, which means more sick, unhappy passengers to tend to.

In the late 2000s, the U.S. Navy did a study of how much more it would cost to put a nuclear reactor on a surface combatant with a displacement of about 25,000 tons. Construction costs were estimated at about $600 million more. To break even, fuel would have to be much more expensive (anywhere from $200/barrel on up). It’s basically a money-loser.

Now, cruise ships are like six times larger than a surface combatant, so how that would affect the bottom line I could only guess at… but the business case for going down this route seems totally crazy.

We did build a Nuke cargo ship, the NS Savannah. With great passenger capability.

Here’s a interesting article:

The problem is simple- all over the world, everyone put out strong anti-Nuke propaganda, to make SURE everyone thought a all out Nuclear war was unthinkable.

This is a GOOD thing.

But that now means we are stuck with everyone hating and fearing nukes. We are dying on a sea of Global Warming, while Nukes could run without a single ton of greenhouse gasses.

if all of the fuel is already in the reactor, how would they accomplish that? you can’t just pop open the RPV and take the fuel rods out.

I suppose that’ll help prevent the actual theft of nuclear material. But unless you publicize the hell out of that all-important fact, your cruise ship is still going to be a tempting target. Just imagine a gang of heavily armed pirates with little-to-no understanding of nuclear reactors storming a nuclear cruise ship, only to have you tell them (after they’ve already killed ? people) that it’s just not that easy. Maybe they’ll believe you, or maybe they’ll think you’re screwing with them, which would make them even angrier. Good luck for a happy outcome.

I’d say that was ridiculous, nobody could be that stupid, but Somali pirates have threatened US Navy Destroyers before (which they promptly used as target practice).

You don’t pop open the reactor hatch and remove the nuclear material. You hijack the entire ship, sail it into a port in Iran or North Korea or wherever, and let drydock crews with whatever equipment they need cut open the reactor.

Or sail it into New York Harbor and threaten to cause a meltdown unless they received [del]1 million[/del] 100 billion dollars.

Anyway, the main benefit of a nuclear powered ship is that they can sail for months (as long as other supplies last) without refueling. Cruise ships don’t need to do that.

There have certainly been multiple discussions on this topic. [THREAD=814014]Here[/THREAD] is the latest one I could find but there are others, both on the topic of using nuclear reactors in commercial seagoing vessels. Setting aside concerns about safety, security, complexity, et cetera regarding nuclear reactors, it is not workable on a cost basis.

First of all, pointing out the potential hazards and problems such as proliferation and end use disposal is not “anti-Nuke propaganda“. There are some significant advantages with nuclear power, primarily in the power output per footprint and ability to operate for long durations without fuel logistics which is why the US Navy and other navies use them for submarines and large capital ships, but they are also very expensive, require constant diligence in maintence and oversight, and the availability of suitable fuel is limited, which is why the US Navy does not use them on every ship. The US Navy maintains its almost flawless safety record with nuclear power through its rigorous safety program and the Operational Reactor Safeguard Examination, the potentially-career ending inspection and test that every nuc lives in dread of. Trying to impose this kind of a safety culture on a commercial enterprise would be a hopeless endeavor. The commercial power industry does not have as good of a safety record despite the fact that commercial reactors are designed to operate with lower performance and greater criticality margins (making a prompt criticality event virtually impossible without the failure or sabotage of multiple systems).

Second, while nuclear reactors do not produce greenhouse gas emissions in operation, there is a significant atmospheric carbon footprint associated with uranium mining and enrichment, logistics, and end-of-use disposal that should not be ignored if we’re comparing the use of nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Producing enriched uranium suitable for use in pressurized and boiling light water reactors takes a substantial amount of energy, most of which comes from coal and gas fired power. The mining of uranium by chemical leaching—by far the most common method—also leaves substantial pollution in the form of caustic acidic mine drainage which is difficult to remediate; in fact, such residue is essentially just stored in giant artificial ponds where they can and often do leak into groundwater. Increasing the extraction and processing of uranium for wider scale commercial use just serves to magnify this problem.

Third, the nuclear fuel cycle is logistically and economically problematic at both ends. The United States currently has no operating facility to refine and enrich uranium fuel for commercial applications; the last one in operation, the National Enrichment Facility (NEF), can provide only about 50% of current commercial nuclear fuel demand at full operating capacity. The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky, was shut down in 2013 and is currently undergoing dismantling and decontamination. A replacement was supposed to come on line in Piketon, OH in the early 2010s but has been held up by failure of loan guarantees from the Department of Energy and general lack of interest in investment in commercial nuclear power. Our current nuclear fuels are coming from the NEF, Department of Energy stockpiles, and from foreign supplies such as the Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement with Russia. Increasing the use of nuclear power would mean greater dependence upon foreign supplies of both uranium (the United States has no domestic supplies of high grade ore) and enriched fuel-grade material. We also have nowhere for the permanent storage of high grade wastes produced in the enrichment process and the once-through ‘spent’ fuel elements. Even if the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository were not closed, it would already be beyond capacity just with the waste elements that are being stored on site at current reactors, and there are no other proposed large scale repositories nor anyone willing to host one.

There are potential solutions to most of the problems associated with conventional nuclear fission power production but because they require significant research and development they are rarely addressed or promoted by the commercial power industry or advocates of nuclear fission power, who insist that “nuclear is perfectly safe” (even though it quite obviously isn’t), and that all issues and concerns are the fictions of anti-nuclear interests with little actual knowledge, even though many critics of conventional nuclear power production are intimately familiar with the physics and technology of nuclear fission power. That there have been so few deaths associated with commercial nuclear accidents is often cited to justify the safety of nuclear power, but it should be recognized that we’ve been fortunate that such accidents have occurred in remote locations (Pripyat, Ukraine in the case of Chernobyl) or radiation being blown away from inhabited areas and out to see (in the case of Fukushima Daiichi); had either of those accidents occurred closer to or upwind of inhabited areas, the result would be much less favorable. In any case, the costs of remediation from those accidents is projected to be many times the value of the energy they would have produced throughout a normal operational lifetime, so proceeding without making nuclear plants more inherently failsafe is just awaiting a much greater catastrophe. Even if the number of serious failures and accidents is substantially lower than other means of energy production, the criticality and long term impact of a serious failure dictates a need for greater safety.

Cruise ships are, by definition, a display of ostentatious first world luxury. If we were really concerned about their impact upon the environment, the responsible thing to do would be to stop sailing them. Barring that, making such vessels operate in a way that would be ecologically less harmful, rather than dependent upon a logistical chain of a fuel that requires enormous energy to process and for which there is no plan to store or remediate the waste and ‘spent’ fuel elements. Ships are actually one of the few transportation applications where the use of hydrogen as a fuel actually makes sense; since cruise ships typically sail in near equatorial routes with a lot of sunlight, they could produce and use hydrogen onboard without the storage and logistical problems with most transportation use of hydrogen. This application is actually being looked at for cargo ships, but would require towing a barge or mat behind the vessel for sufficient capture area. Until such an application is already proven out it is unlikely that cruise lines would be interested in investing in developing that technology. But regardless, they are not going to be able to bear the expense and complexity of using enriched uraniaum pressurized water reactors in luxury cruise vessels.


It isn’t to be sure. The expense involved is quite high. But the reason why nobody is even thinking about it- is “anti-Nuke propaganda”.

Sure, digging up uranium does emit carbon. Like oil drilling and coal mining doesnt?

It does take quite a bit of power- which could all come from Nuke or Solar, etc if we didnt have our heads up our asses.

Yep, all due to nuke-fear.

Yes, some scary incidents. Which killed 52 people. All of which were workers, iirc.

About 4 MILLION people die *each year *thru fossil fuel pollution. Compare 52 )over more than a decade) to 4 fucking million, no compare it to FORTY Million over a similar span. The Nuclear power people are totally justified in saying it is totally safe.

Yep the cost of remediation is high. How does that compare to the cost of remediation in cleaning up after oil spills (62 Billion just for the Gulf spill), coal mines …oh and yes, cleaning all that carbon out of the air? What was it? Hundreds of trillions?

Nuclear *is *clean and safe- compared to the killer and dirty polluter of fossil fuels.