Nuclear power could transform the maritime industry with emissions-free shipping and longer-lived ships, removing the uncertainty of fuel and refuelling infrastructure development.

Those were the conclusions of Fuel for thought: Nuclear, a new a report published by Lloyd’s Register (LR), which highlights that regulation and safety considerations must be addressed for its widespread commercial adoption.

The rise of small modular reactors points to a step change for nuclear applications in shipping if regulatory hurdles can be overcome, says Lloyd’s Register.

According to the report, technology readiness for nuclear is improving with pressurised water reactors, micro reactors and molten salt reactors emerging as some of the most promising technologies for maritime applications.

However, progress is being held up by the public’s perception of nuclear power.

Both community readiness levels and investment readiness levels remain low due to the uncertainties around the wider uptake of nuclear technology in commercial shipping, LR concedes.

LR identifies the proven track record of nuclear power in naval applications. Small modular reactors (SMRs), it said, could bring to the market low-maintenance reactors to meet the propulsion and energy requirements of commercial ships.

The report suggests that the commercial relationships between shipowners and energy producers will be changed, as power is likely to be leased from reactor owners, separating the shipowner from the complexities of licensing and operating nuclear technology.

SMRs represent a leap forward in reactor design, LR claims, emphasising safety, efficiency, and modularity for streamlined production.

As the technology matures and regulatory clarity increases, ship designs optimised for nuclear propulsion will emerge, ushering in a new era of efficient and environmentally friendly vessels.

The report also outlines the vital importance of adopting stringent safety protocols to prioritise the protection of seafarers and the environment.

The classification society’s Mark Tipping, Power to X director, said: “Fuel for Thought: Nuclear represents one of the first easily accessible overviews on the use of nuclear power in shipping, combining information from a wide range of sources into one report tailored for commercial shipping and the wider maritime value chain.

“Whilst its use in commercial shipping has been limited, by overcoming negative perceptions and a lack of investment levels, nuclear propulsion could provide immense value for the maritime sector in its decarbonisation journey, allowing for emissions free vessels with longer life cycles which require minimal refuelling infrastructure, or in best case scenarios limit the need entirely,” he added.