Nuclear Power For Marine Propulsion Research Paper Examples
Mankind has used the oceans as a medium in transferring goods, passengers and even in exploration (Hirdaris, 2014). Through times, the technology of cargoes used in rivers, seas and oceans have been developed. There are different types of energies used in these types of technologies. Steam engine was first used to cross the Atlantic Ocean during the early 19th century. The coal and the diesel engine as energy source in ships have also been developed during the mid-20th century (Guimares, 2010). In the modern times, nuclear power has been one of the most promising technologies in the surface water transportation. It has been more than 50 years since the first nuclear powered surface ship travelled as an icebreaker in the Northern Russia (Crouch, 1960).
The surface ships which travelled on oceans or seas which are powered by nuclear reactor are called the nuclear marine propulsion (Crouch, 1960). The most common use of nuclear marine propulsion is naval nuclear propulsion which is basically used as a military or naval warship (Hirdaris, 2014). Its operation is very similar to the nuclear power reactors operating on lands. The energy produce by nuclear reaction is used to boil the water which produces steam and spins the turbine. The work produce in the turbine becomes the energy used for the propulsion of the nuclear marine propulsion (San & Bradshaw, 2012). Although its basic used is only limited for naval warships, its use as a merchant ships is currently developing. Governments, businessmen and other sectors are now interested in the use of nuclear reactors as the basic energy source of merchant ships which travels on oceans.
Nuclear power could have a vital role in the sustainability of water-based transportation. It could be a potential alternative to traditional diesel and oil fuel and energy source which produces large amounts of gaseous emissions. The prices of oil are also increasing which could be a factor for the shift to nuclear technologies. Another main reason why nuclear power could have a vital role in the water-based transportation in the future is because it does not emit greenhouse gases. The objective of this research paper is to analyze and discuss the facts about the nuclear marine propulsion technology. It also opts to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using nuclear power in the water-based transportations.
When, nuclear fission has been discovered during the 1930s, there have been many ides for its potential use. One major used for the nuclear reactor which was thought by the scientists and inventors during that time is for transportation. Scientists have been developing nuclear reactors for marine propulsion during the 1940s. Admiral Hyman Rickover ordered the development of the design and production of nuclear marine propulsion which should be used as warships (Guimares, 2010). USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was the first submarine powered by nuclear reactor which was used in 1955 (Crouch, 1960). The early developments of these types of technology were done to be used by the navy since the funding for these projects came from the American Defense sector (Hirdaris, 2014).
The National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) in Idaho held the developments and studies about the nuclear marine propulsion. The Naval Reactor Facility which constructed the first prototype of the nuclear marine propulsion is also found in NRTS. Aside from the developments in the United States, the Soviets also participated in the developments of the nuclear marine propulsion (San & Bradshaw, 2012). The first’s types of nuclear marine propulsion developed by the Soviets are the November Class. One of the November Class ships is the Lenin which is used as an icebreaker on 1958 in the Northern Polar Region of the Soviet Union (US Atomic Energy Commission, 1995).
In the 1950s, the technology of nuclear powered marine propulsion shifter from submarines to underwater naval ships. There have been several designs used for different naval ships depending on its weight capacity (Hirdaris, 2014). The Skate-Class submarines which are developed in the 1960s were operated using a single nuclear reactor. The USS Long Beach which is a cruiser used as a warship is operated using two nuclear reactors. On the other hand, the USS Enterprise which is an aircraft carrier is powered by eight nuclear reactors. There have been 26 American submarines operated by nuclear reactors which are functioning during the 1960s.
The development of the nuclear marine propulsion accelerated during the 1970s up to the modern times. There are large aircraft carriers that were built by the Russians which are powered by more than ten nuclear reactors. These types of nuclear marine propulsion are called Typhoon Class. The smallest nuclear marine propulsion was built by the French in 1970s as an attack submarine (Hirdaris, 2014). Non-combat submarines which are powered by nuclear reactors are also built by the United States during the 1980s in order to explore ocean floors. These nuclear marine propulsion technologies have been decommissioned in the 1990s in order to avoid large nuclear waste disposal in the oceans (Guimares, 2010).
There are only few experimental ships used for trading which is powered by nuclear reactors. The nuclear marine propulsion design is very expensive to operate which made it not economically efficient to be used as a merchant ship. It is also difficult to use nuclear marine propulsion as a passenger ship since the design is very complicated and space is a very valuable resource (Guimares, 2010). There are also many technical and political problems to consider before using nuclear marine propulsion as a merchant ship. As of 2012, there is only one merchant ship in service which is powered by nuclear reactor. Its name is Sevmorput which is a Russia carrier also used as an icebreaker in the Northern Region of Russia (Hirdaris, 2014).
The Soviets has been using nuclear marine propulsion for breaking ice in the Soviet Arctic. According to their studies, it is economically and technically feasible to use nuclear reactors to operate icebreaking ships. These ships operate in years even without proper refueling since there is enough power for icebreaking operations. The first surface ship which operates with a nuclear reactor was built in 1959. It is the Lenin which is a Soviet icebreaker and it operates for almost 30 years after its launching (San & Bradshaw, 2012). In the modern times, there are small icebreaker vessels which operate in Europe. However, the development of this technology for icebreaking in the Polar Regions is very slow due to economic considerations (Crouch, 1960).
Features of the Nuclear Marine Propulsion
The production of energy of nuclear marine propulsion technology uses pressurized water or steam which is collected in the turbine to produce work or electricity (Hirdaris, 2014). The most commonly used nuclear fuel in the nuclear marine propulsion is Uranium. Only low amounts of uranium are used in order to operate a single nuclear reactor which adds to its major benefit or advantage. Using uranium as a nuclear fuel source does not require any refueling system in order to operate for very long time period. The nuclear marine propulsion does not use uranium oxide but it use metal-zirconium alloy which is highly enriched with uranium. The uranium that is used in the nuclear reactor is stable as long as it is stored in the nuclear reactors.
Actinides and other enrichment substances are used in order to lengthen the core life of nuclear fuels used in the nuclear marine propulsion. These actinides and other substances are named as burnable poison which is essential in order to avoid or reduce the hazard and risk of the use of nuclear fuel or the nuclear reactor itself (San & Bradshaw, 2012). The radiation damage that should be considered in the design of the nuclear marine propulsion could also be considered a technical difficulty. It is difficult to control the risks and hazards of nuclear marine propulsion rather than problems of the traditional fossil fuel engines (Hirdaris, 2014).
The United States and the Soviets have been developing technologies in the decommissioning as well as the operation of the nuclear marine propulsion. Removing or lowering the waste disposal of the nuclear marine propulsion is very important in order to reduce the negative effects of this technology to the environment. Nuclear marine propulsion technology has been used in submarines since it has lower risk of radiation and nuclear leakage when operated under the oceans or seas (Hirdaris, 2014). The consequences of accidents in a nuclear marine propulsion technology are almost equal to the traditional marine fossil fuel engines although its risk is more dangerous to the environment. The design and the maintenance of the nuclear reactor is very complicated (Crouch, 1960). However, the advanced nuclear technology could be used in order to compensate the difficulties that could be experienced in using the nuclear marine propulsion technology (Guimares, 2010).
Advantages of Nuclear Marine Propulsion
There are many features and benefits that the nuclear-powered engines could provide than the traditional fossil fuel engines (US Atomic Energy Commission, 1995). The benefits that could be achieved in producing power using nuclear reactors in the nuclear power plants are also experienced in the nuclear marine propulsion. The nuclear fission which is the main mechanism in the nuclear reactor does not require oxygen and it does not emit exhaust gases. The nuclear reactor as an energy source is very efficient and it could operate in years even without refueling. Since naval warships are capable of independent operations and there are little economic concerns during its use, nuclear marine propulsion is the best option (Guimares, 2010).
Advanced nuclear technologies which have high regards on efficient design could have numerous commercial applications (Guimares, 2010). One of the major uses of commercial nuclear marine propulsion is for merchant ships as long as it is designed to operate efficiently. The gas turbine that is used in the nuclear-powered ship could be very simple and could offer low capital investment. This simple design could compensate for the expensive equipment of the nuclear reactors. The design complexity could be considered as a disadvantage of the nuclear marine propulsion but it could be removed or eliminated as long as advanced nuclear technology is used (Hirdaris, 2014).
One of the major advantages of the nuclear marine propulsion is that it could operate for a long period of time without refueling (San & Bradshaw, 2012). It could provide endurance for the ships for long travels in the seas and fuel source is not a problem. The ships could also hold large amounts of fuel which could be transported with the ship. Only small amounts of nuclear fuel are needed to operate huge carrier ships for a long period of time. Nuclear marine propulsion could save large amounts of space and weight that could be used for other purposes. Traditional fossil fuel used large space and weight for fuel source such as diesel and oil.
Nuclear marine propulsion is best used in submarines and underwater vessels since it does not need oxygen to operate. Even if it is used on surface waters, it could not emit gaseous exhausts which produce pollution. Nuclear marine propulsion is a sustainable alternative for water ships which operates at fossil fuels. It could be a solution to global warming and excessive pollution. The use of nuclear reactor is also more efficient than the fossil fuel reactors. When fuel is consumed in a nuclear reactor, there is no change in the draft and the trim of the ship which made it energy efficient (US Atomic Energy Commission, 1995). Nuclear marine propulsion is also simpler to operate, control and maintain than the traditional ships operating with fossil fuel engines (Hirdaris, 2014).
Nuclear power is considered to be the most concentrated energy form which could be used in the modern day technologies. The energy that it could produce is very massive and it only requires very small amount of fuel in order to produce this. There are many costs that the use of nuclear marine propulsion could eliminate such as the transportation of fuel. Nuclear power is very reliable and it does not depend of factors which should be considered in the traditional fossil fuel engines (Crouch, 1960). The nuclear reactors could also produce very low amounts of wastes in comparison to other fuel engines. In general, nuclear power is better to traditional fossil fuel engines in terms of waste pollution and efficiency (Guimares, 2010).
Nuclear marine propulsion could demonstrate a very high potential of reliability. Nuclear marine propulsion technology has been used in harshest conditions including the hottest climate of the Persian Gulf and the coldest climate of Arctic Ocean (Guimares, 2010). Another main advantage of the nuclear marine propulsion technology is the zero risk of fuel leakage in the oceans. The oceans as well as the biodiversity of the seas could be destroyed when there are oil and diesel leaks due to accidents in the traditional fossil fuel engines (Hirdaris, 2014). The engines of the nuclear reactors also rarely fail than the traditional fossil fuel engines due to the simplicity of its maintenance. Traditional fossil fuel engines are more difficult to maintain than the nuclear reactors.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Marine Propulsion
Despite the many advantages and potential use of nuclear reactors in water-based ships, there have many considerations or disadvantages that should be addressed before using nuclear marine propulsion as merchant ships. The operation and the mechanisms which operate the nuclear marine propulsion technology are very expensive. It could not be easily used for other purpose due to its economic inefficiency (San & Bradshaw, 2012). The design of nuclear marine propulsion technology is very complicated and it requires a lot of consideration which adds to its costs. Nuclear marine propulsion technology is best used in naval warships since it is very expensive although it could be potential alternatives to traditional commercial ships and carriers (Crouch, 1960).
Quality control is very important to nuclear marine propulsion system due to very sensitive or hazardous nuclear wastes. Since quality control is very essential, the cost of building and maintaining the reactors is very expensive and should be very cautious. The safety of the crew as well as the ship is extremely important due to the hazard of the nuclear waste that is produce in the nuclear marine propulsion. In designing the ship, the walls and the shielding should be thick enough in order to avoid extreme radiation from the nuclear reactors. Radiation is one of the major considerations why nuclear reactors are not often used for merchant ships. Most of the people believed that the use of nuclear reactors for marine propulsion system is very dangerous due to radiation (Guimares, 2010).
One of the most important political issues which are associated with the use of nuclear reactors in marine propulsion system is the waste disposal (US Atomic Energy Commission, 1995). Nuclear waste are very hazardous to people and it should be disposed properly in order to avoid radiation problems. The disposal of the nuclear waste is also very expensive which adds to the costs of using nuclear power in marine propulsion. Nuclear waste could pollute an environment easily due to its potential radiation. One of the major solutions to the radiation and pollution problems with the use of marine propulsion technology is the decommissioning. However, decommissioning process requires a lot of time and it is very expensive.
Nuclear marine propulsion is one of the developing technologies in the marine transportation sector (Crouch, 1960). It could be very useful due to its reliability as well as its potential use in other commercial application. Nuclear reactors have been a potential alternative to traditional fossil fuel engines in the marine transportation. It has been used as a naval warship since it has no other economic implications. The use of nuclear marine propulsion as a merchant ship started when the development of this technology advanced. In advanced nuclear technology, the disadvantages of the nuclear marine propulsion technology could be reduced or could be removed (San & Bradshaw, 2012).
The use of nuclear marine propulsion technology has many advantages. It could be a vital solution to global pollution and global warming since it helps in reducing or eliminating the greenhouse gas emission which is common to the traditional fossil fuel engine. However, there are also considerable disadvantages that the users should consider before using the nuclear marine propulsion (Crouch, 1960). There are risk of radiation and other potential risk that are associated with the use of nuclear fuels. Proper care of the nuclear fuel as well as its disposal should be made in order to avoid problems that could be encountered in the plant itself or in the other parts of the plant.
Crouch, H. (1960) . Nuclear Ship Propulsion. Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge
Hirdaris, S. (2014). Considerations on the Potential Use of Nuclear Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Technology for Merchant Marine Propulsion. Ocean Engineering; 79, 101-130
Guimaraes, L. (2010). Marine Nuclear Propulsion. Academia. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/6270766/Marine_Nuclear_Propulsion.
San, B., & Bradshaw, J. (2012). Fuel cells for ships: systems, risks and regulations. Proceedings of the 11th International Marine Design Conference.
US Atomic Energy Commission. (1995). Nuclear Power and Merchant Shipping. Division of Technical Information. Retrieved from http://www.osti.gov/includes/opennet/includes/Understanding%20the%20Atom/Nuclear%20Power%20and%20Merchant%20Shipping.pdf.
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