Nuclear propulsion could transform maritime with more reliable, emissions-free and longer-lived ships.


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’s Fuel for Thought: Nuclear report.

Nuclear power could transform the maritime industry with emissions-free shipping, whilst extending the life cycle of vessels and removing the uncertainty of fuel and refuelling infrastructure development, but regulation and safety considerations must be addressed for its widespread commercial adoption, reveals Lloyd’s Register’s (LR) Fuel for Thought: Nuclear report.

The report assesses the opportunity presented by nuclear for commercial maritime given its proven track record in naval applications, with the study pointing to the role of new small modular reactors (SMRs) in bringing to market suitable low-maintenance reactors to meet the propulsion and energy requirements of commercial ships.

According to the report, the commercial relationships between shipowners and energy producers will be altered 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, emphasising safety, efficiency, and modularity for streamlined production. As SMR 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 outlines the vital importance of adopting stringent safety protocols to prioritise the protection of seafarers and the environment. It suggests that for novel designs and nuclear technology in the short-term, LR’s Risk Based Certification (RBC) could provide an approach for first movers to certify their projects by demonstrating an equivalent level of safety to that achieved with conventional oil-fuelled systems.

According to Fuel for Thought: Nuclear, technology readiness for nuclear is improving, as per the most recent update of the LR Maritime Decarbonisation Hub’s Zero Carbon Fuel Monitor with pressurised water reactors (PWR), micro reactors and molten salt reactors (MSR) emerging as some of the most promising technologies for maritime applications. However, community readiness levels (CRL), which are affected by the public’s perception of nuclear power and investment readiness levels (IRL) remain low due to the uncertainties around the wider uptake of nuclear technology in commercial shipping.

Mark Tipping, Power to X director, LR 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.

Fuel for thought: Nuclear

Lloyd’s Register (LR) is a global professional services group specialising in marine engineering and technology. With a heritage going back more than 260 years to the establishment of the world’s first marine classification society, LR is dedicated to setting and improving standards for the safety of ships.

Today we are a leading provider of classification and compliance services to the marine and offshore industries, helping our clients design, construct and operate their assets to accepted levels of safety and environmental compliance.

We also provide advice, support and solutions on fleet performance, fleet optimisation and voyage optimisation, enhancing our clients’ digital capabilities. Our digital solutions are relied upon by more than 20,000 vessels.

In the race to zero emissions, our research, technical expertise and industry-firsts are supporting a safe, sustainable maritime energy transition.

Lloyd’s Register Group is wholly owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a politically and financially independent global charity that promotes safety and education. 

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