‘Nuclear energy? Why not?’ Dark horse of energy mix finds backers
Mar. 13 2023
Shipowners, especially smaller ones, won’t find the cheap electricity they need without nuclear power, Dr.John Kokarakis argues
An influential voice in Greek shipping praised the virtues of nuclear energy on Tuesday, arguing that the industry will find it hard to decarbonise without it.
“Nuclear energy? Why not?” said Dr.John Kokarakis, a senior technical official with Bureau Veritas, at Capital Link’s Cyprus Shipping Forum in Limassol.
“Electrification and decarbonisation go hand in hand,” the classification society’s technical director for South, East Europe, Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea said, adding that nuclear is one way to find cheap electricity.
Respected in his home country, Greece, Dr.J.Kokarakis is a fixture in discussion panels on decarbonisation and ship efficiency performance.
With a PhD and a master’s degree in naval architecture and mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, Dr.J.Kokarakis made a name as a forensic engineer in a string of high-profile accidents, including the Exxon Valdez disaster and the Piper Alpha fire and explosion.
Bureau Veritas entered an agreement with technology developer ThorCon in December to develop a 500-megawatt nuclear power barge for operation in Indonesia.
Unlike traditional nuclear reactors, ThorCon’s molten salt fission reactor and hull unit operates at low pressure and uses liquid fuel.
Such projects encourage shipping players who think that nuclear should play an important and legitimate role in the energy mix and as a ship propulsion fuel as well.
In January, Greek shipowner Harry Vafias left little doubt as to what he thought the right response was to a TradeWinds question to shipping players on how they would spend $1bn on decarbonisation.
“There can be only one right answer ... And that is nuclear power,” Vafias wrote.
Speaking at the Capital Link conference on Tuesday, Safe Bulkers president Loukas Barmparis also said the nuclear option is worth exploring.
“There are several ideas — even … about small nuclear reactors used in ships over their full life,” he said.
Dr.J.Kokarakis’ argument did not refer to nuclear energy as a means of propulsion but as an energy source to provide the abundant quantities of electricity needed to produce green hydrogen — which he described as “the mother of all fuels” — and green methanol.
Particularly smaller shipowners would benefit, he said.
Unlike giants such as AP Moller Maersk, CMA CGM or MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, average owners do not have the deep pockets needed to invest in their own green fuel supply chains.
“If you’re not a very big corporation … it’s going to be very tough,” Dr.J.Kokarakis said.
Nuclear energy, however, remains controversial.
Several countries, including France, China and Russia, rely on it to cover a large part of their energy needs.
Others, however — most notably Germany — steer clear and are refusing to contemplate it as part of the zero-carbon future.
Voices outside Greece see some future in nuclear-powered commercial shipping as well.
Speaking at another Capital Link conference in Athens last month, renowned shipping economist Martin Stopford said he was “quite confident” that nuclear reactors will be used eventually on bigger vessels, particularly container ships.
Despite a considerable one-off cost of about $150m for the reactor and more than $200m for the fuel, nuclear power for ship propulsion could be economically feasible, Stopford argued, considering that vessels could go for 30 years without refuelling.
Most of their fuel would even be left unspent, he said.
Other classification societies are looking into nuclear options.
Last September, the US Department of Energy awarded a contract to the American Bureau of Shipping to research the barriers to the introduction of advanced nuclear propulsion on commercial vessels.
“Classification societies are the incubators of collaboration,” Dr.J.Kokarakis said on Tuesday.