Nuclear energy has a proven track record of producing the clean and reliable energy communities need, while being an accommodating neighbor. As the most land-efficient source of energy, nuclear power plants require just 1.3 square miles per 1,000 megawatts of energy.
With the next generation of technologies coming online, nuclear’s land usage may shrink even more. Many advanced reactor designs are poised to be simpler, smaller and modular while creating good-paying jobs, enhancing our energy security, and helping us meet our climate goals. But did you know that some designs go one step further, providing resilient electricity ... while being on a body of water?
It may sound like science fiction, but it’s a fact that investors are expressing interest in floating nuclear power plants, and that nuclear-powered innovations have the potential to go seaborne. As a cutting-edge nuclear technology, floating nukes can address several global energy challenges with flexible power, innovation and the ability to decarbonize heavy industries faster than you can say, “All aboard!”
Floating nukes allow for a wide range of versatile power applications. Developers construct them on ships or barges as self-contained, mobile power stations, ensuring they can deploy them to virtually any coastal region or waterway.
This flexibility opens new possibilities for generating clean energy in areas that were previously inaccessible for traditional nuclear facilities. Floating nukes can be an ideal solution to meet the specific energy demands of these regions, such as island nations that need energy for a wide variety of application including water desalination, district heating/cooling and electricity.
Additionally, developers can build floating nukes with ready-made infrastructure such as shipyards. By utilizing modular construction techniques to construct smaller, simpler reactors, developers reduce costs while paving the way for the quick deployment of nuclear power at sea.
Addressing climate change will require significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, especially from heavy industries that have historically relied on fossil fuels.
Water-based nuclear plants can be deployed near coastal industrial complexes, minimizing transmission losses and providing a stable power supply to energy-intensive operations. This localized power generation helps reduce the strain on existing power grids and assures a consistent energy supply to critical industries.
Companies are also planning on deploying nuclear reactors on civilian maritime vessels for power and propulsion. Ocean transportation carries more than 80 percent of the world’s exported goods via large diesel engines. If these vessels were a country, they would be sixth globally on greenhouse gas emissions — just above Germany. Next-generation nuclear is the only zero-emission energy source available to power these vessels that make up the backbone of global shipping.
This isn’t nuclear’s first time at sea — in fact, our nation has a rich history of using nuclear energy to support our naval operations. Though the technologies used by the Navy and proposed floating nuclear plants differ, they both showcase the innovation that the nuclear industry is known for.
The United States developed the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, which first went to sea in 1955. In 1958, the Nautilus set another record when it became the first submarine to traverse under the North Pole.
Six decades later, we now have the world’s largest nuclear-powered navy, which has traveled more than 130 million miles using nuclear power (enough to circle the Earth 3,500 times).
From shaping the flexible energy systems of tomorrow, to advancing decarbonization across the economy, floating nuclear power plants are an innovative solution that can accelerate progress toward climate goals.
Tristan Fitzpatrick is a senior consultant with the Nuclear Energy Institute. This article first appeared on the NEI website. Read it here.