Cruise lines keep an eye on nuclear options

At least two leading cruise operators and a burgeoning zero-emissions line are following developments in molten salt reactors with interest.
MSC Cruises, Silversea Cruises and fledgling Nordic cruise start up Northern Xplorer have all noted the potential for nuclear-powered cruise ships as they look to long-term clean energy solutions. Speaking at a panel at GreenPort Congress & Cruise 2022, the mentions were an early public indication that passenger vessel segments might consider a power source still prohibited in many countries.


Interest in nuclear power across shipping has increased rapidly amid high-profile developments in the field of small, modular nuclear power plants powered by lithium and low-enriched uranium. Nuclear power has previously been the preserve of state-owned vessels including submarines and icebreakers, and a handful of experimental merchant vessels. Current interest is driven by nuclear power’s lack of carbon emissions and long refuelling intervals, as well advances in scaling down technology and enhancing safety measures.


MSC Cruises Director of Sustainability Linden Coppell listed nuclear among a wide range of future technologies that the operator is monitoring. “They are far more likely to emerge first on cargo ships, but if the safety challenges can be overcome, molten salt reactors could be a great solution to zero-carbon sailing,” she said.


Northern Xplorer aims to operate its first zero-emission luxury cruise vessels by 2026. Founder Rolf Sandvik said that nuclear reactors were a great option for cargo vessels and something that cruise ships need to look at given the advantages of minimal fuel costs and zero emissions.


“We have already looked with DNV at how to apply molten salt reactors to cruise vessels,” he reported.


Silversea Cruises Senior Vice President of Marine Operations Roberto Bruzzone confirmed the operator’s interest in nuclear power, while noting that the company does not currently have any projects relating to the technology.


There are considerable challenges associated with the wider use of nuclear power in shipping, even beyond technology. Winning public acceptance and developing a regulatory framework are likely to be long projects. However, the nuclear tide could turn quickly as several countries previously vehemently opposed to nuclear power begin to reconsider their positions in the light of the pressing need to find large-scale solutions to climate change.

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