Korean shipbuilder joins maritime SMR project

07 February 2024

South Korea's HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (KSOE) plans to develop a small modular reactor (SMR) for use in shipping in cooperation with the UK's Core Power and the USA's Southern Company and TerraPower.

A concept for a nuclear-powered cargo ship (Image: Core Power)

The plans were announced following a joint research and technology exchange meeting in Washington, DC, between KSOE - a subsidiary of South Korea's HD Hyundai - and TerraPower and Core Power. In November 2022, KSOE invested USD30 million in TerraPower.

The reactor to be jointly developed centres around TerraPower's Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) design. The technology uses molten chloride salt as both reactor coolant and fuel, allowing for so-called fast spectrum operation which the company says makes the fission reaction more efficient. It operates at higher temperatures than conventional reactors, generating electricity more efficiently, and also offers potential for process heat applications and thermal storage. An iteration of the MCFR - known as the m-MSR - intended for marine use is being developed by TerraPower.

KSOE plans to send an R&D team to TerraPower in March to continue cooperation with all the joint research companies from various fields including marine nuclear power plants and new nuclear applications. In addition, KSOE plans to join the establishment of a system for the application of marine reactors with the International Atomic Energy Agency and classification societies ABS and Lloyd's Register.

The shipping industry consumes some 350 million tonnes of fossil fuel annually and accounts for about 3% of total worldwide carbon emissions. In July last year, the shipping industry, via the International Maritime Organization, approved new targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, aiming to reach net-zero emissions by or around 2050.

Core Power President and CEO Mikal Bøe welcomed KSOE's involvement in the project, saying: "Adding their world-class expertise in shipbuilding and process engineering and Core Power's 60+ shareholders from the maritime and energy industries illustrates how a broader understanding that there is no net-zero without nuclear, is now being established."

In January this year, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Lloyd's Register, Zodiac Maritime, KSOE and Kepco Engineering & Construction for the development of nuclear-propelled ship designs, including bulk carriers and container ships. Under the joint development project, KSOE and Kepco E&C will provide designs for future vessels and reactors while Lloyd's Register will assess rule requirements for safe operation and regulatory compliance models.

The partners will work to address the challenges involved with nuclear propulsion, such as applying existing terrestrial nuclear technology to ships, and the project will enable shipping company Zodiac to evaluate ship specifications and voyage considerations around nuclear technology.

In November 2020, a multinational team including Core Power, Southern Company, TerraPower and Orano USA applied to take part in cost-share risk reduction awards under the US Department of Energy's Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme to build a proof-of-concept for a medium-scale commercial-grade marine reactor based on molten salt reactor technology.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News