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Why Run Ships on Oil? April 29, 2009

Posted by federalist in Energy, Open Questions, Transportation.

Vote for Dave asks an excellent question: Massive container ships burn low-grade “bunker” fuel for power. Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to run them on nuclear power, as our navy has done without incident for decades on submarines and large warships?  Shouldn’t global warmists be thrilled at such low-hanging fruit in the fight against carbon dioxide emissions?

[Addendum: Four nuclear-powered cargo ships were built, but the technology is simply not cost-competitive with fossil fuels.  The United States Navy has abandoned nuclear power for all vessels but submarines and aircraft carriers, where nuclear power confers unique tactical benefits.]


1. Vote For David - May 7, 2009

Tactical benefits, that’s for sure!

The question still remains. Being no expert in the matter I’ll add a few more comments and questions. Those ships were build a LONG time ago and reactor technology has advanced since then.

Commercial reactor designs are practically off-the-shelf compared to those built into ships laid in the 1950. Cost for a modern reactor has GOT to be lower by now, per MegaWatt-hour of reactor capacity. Also the refueling interval is longer than on the earlier designs, by a lot. Both of those are cost cutting measures that help make single minute of reactor run-time less expensive.

The first ship in the linked Wikipedia article was found to be somewhat more expensive to operate than an oil burner, when oil was cheaper. Now oil is more expensive. What are the new numbers?

Sure there are political considerations, but that is not an economic reality, that is a success of the government schooling systems of the world. Scare the sheep into being afraid to have something newkyewluhr in the harbor and you’ll be able to prevent the technology getting any better/faster/cheaper, ever.

As for disposal of spent fuel, there really is no need. In countries that approach somewhat closer to sanity than the US, they recycle spent reactor fuel. That’s another topic, however, and a big sore spot with me; let me not get started down that road. . . .

2. federalist - May 7, 2009

I happen to work with two former Navy officers who were qualified for nuclear propulsion and asked them about this: they said even at its recent heights oil hasn’t approached the cost of running a nuclear ship. Especially for large cargo ships that are designed to cruise at a fixed rate they can virtually attach the propellers directly to the engine shaft so it’s a very simple and efficient (though still enormous) propulsion system. They noted that even the Navy decided to back off of nuclear power for its aircraft carrier escort ships even though that means that in a pinch they can’t keep up with the carriers.

3. Vote For David - May 12, 2009

Thanks, that’s interesting. I’ve seen some of those oil burners’ engines. They would make an interesting house if you could make hallways in between the cylinders.

To say that some of the escort ships couldn’t keep up is an understatement indeed! Question: how fast does a USN aircraft carrier have to be moving to throw a roostertail higher than the fantail? Answer: “well in excess of 30 knots” hahaha.

P.S. tell your two co-workers somebody online (me) said they are either braniacs-galore or seriously hard-headed about studying. I passed the test to get into Nuke school, but I was wiped out by the end of it. I can only imagine how much study would have been involved if I had gone for the program.

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