The Norwegian project NuProShip aims at designing a down-sized version of the LeadCold SMR Sealer for usage in merchant shipping, particularly larger ships. – Both shipping and the industry has a great need for a small reactor, says professor Jan Emblemsvåg at NTNU. Written by Morten Valestrand |

The main purpose of the project is to adjust a Generation IV SMR to the needs of international shipping, but it will also provide secondary effects elsewhere as well. The technical starting point is an already approved design at 25–55 MW, says the project manager Jan Emblemsvåg, professor at NTNU Department of Ocean Operations and Civil Engineering located in Ålesund on the Norwegian west coast.

– The objective is to build a reactor that does not require large investments after the initial development process. Compared to today’s nuclear power plants, the investment cost for an SMR is already very low, and we are talking about small, modular assets which will give a very cost effective solution, says Jan Emblemsvåg.

A new take on SMR

NuProShip I (Nuclear Propulsion of Merchant Ships 1) is to study the feasibility of three different nuclear reactor concepts within the Generation IV domain. In addition to a smaller variant of LeadCold and KTH’s Swedish further development of the BREST reactor, a Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) and a high-temperature, helium gas cooled reactor (HTGR) will also be studied. On the international arena of nuclear power, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is taking a completely new and innovative step towards the SMR development, which can over time give major implications for power generation in general. By starting at sea, where NTNU has world leading maritime competence, this project will help Norway maintain a leading position as a seafaring nation.

Maritime nuclear propulsion

What is special in this context, is that NuProShip I combines NTNU’s maritime competence with Norway’s potential for large thorium deposits, which many in Sweden has little overview of. However, the Norwegian academic environment is therefore well informed about the Swedish nuclear power and the development of the SMR market and has maintained contact with both KTH and other actors.

At the same time, international shipping is in an ever more acute situation of solving the fossil free fuel problem. International shipping is still lacking technical solutions that will provide large amounts of energy at sensible costs with workable logistics. Hence, Jan Emblemsvåg sees the possibility of a maritime reactor market with standardized and licensed reactors.

– There is no workable and even technically sound solutions available for large merchant ships. The background for a business case for NuProShip I is therefore very solid, says Jan Emblemsvåg.

Professor Jan Emblemsvåg

Ships need SMRs

When the Research Council of Norway Maritim 21-program were seeking applications for new and innovative projects, Emblemsvåg and his team could not resist submitting an application. What was first an initial idea, hence grew to become one of the world’s most innovative SMR project. NuProShip I connects the reactor designer LeadCold and KTH’s research with an international team covering everything from business aspects to engineering in various industries, companies and universities. KTH, for example, is among the best in the world when it comes to its unique corrosion resistant reactor steel for high-temperature SMR applications.

– We see that countries and various industry sectors will increasingly require SMRs, also in the shipping industry, says Jan Emblemsvåg.

Floating charging station

The initiative has already given some effects in Norway. Amongst others, Institutt For Energiteknikk (IFE) have together with a fishing vessel company joined forces to build a 150 tonnes mini reactor at about 10 MW for larger trawlers. Originally, it was conceived as a hydrogen project inspired by Jan Emblemsvågs market optimism for SMRs later expanded as a nuclear power project.

Also at home, in a fjord further south in Ulsteinvik, the Norwegian shipbuilding corporation Ulstein Group has also been influenced by Jan Emblemsvåg and earlier this year they launched the charging vessel concept of Thor featuring a thorium-based MSR to provide electricity to electric ships at sea in remote areas which would prevent electrically propelled ships today due to lack of charging possibilities.

The rescue of electrification?

Through the maritime industry, small reactors can be adjusted realtively straightforwardly to traditional industry, for example the offshore industry. It is simply matter of time before industry is also taking a closer look at SMRs as means to electrify oil rigs, something which is today a difficult climate policy due to hydro power being under the strains of lack of water and grid expansion issues. Given the expected doubling of electricity demand by 2040, producing enough electricity will be a major challenge for today’s electricity generators and market structures even if wind power is being expanded at both land and sea.

A mini-Sealer can therefore over time become a major part of this market. Hence, the reactor market is open for new min/small versions of reactors within a large set of applications, according to NTNU and Jan Emblemsvåg, once the reactors have been designed and commercialized for shipping.

Ship specific knowledge

– This type of small reactors can be used just as well on land as at sea. We can almost claim that they are even better for land-based industry where the large temperature span of lead can be more effectively exploited. The high production of heat is a major advantage of Generation IV technology, says Jan Emblemsvåg.

In fact, according to Emblemsvåg the SMR technology has so many different application possibilities both at ”sea and land, city and countryside”, but one thing at a time. LeadCold and Unipers original project with the Sealer 55 in Oskarshamn has set 2035 as market debut and a Norwegian-designed smaller, version will obviously not be ready before.

Jan Emblemsvåg is also in the process of planning NuProShip II and III. The objective is to build an entire ship specific knowledge-base including system requirements, specifications, training and education, safety, etc for SMR at sea – although, it can arguably easily be adjusted to other industrial applications also.

The lead cooled SEALER reactor

SMR in the engine room: The Norwegian project NuProShip I (Nuclear Propulsion of Merchant Ships 1) will together with an international consortium design and develop Small Modular Reactors (SMR) for large merchant ships. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has been awarded 10 million NOK from the Research Council of Norway. Safety: NTNU will develop a safe, cost effective solution including waste handling, within the NuProShip I project according to the stringent standards of ncuelar technology. Even if a ship should sink, the idea is to either pick the reactor up or let it sit until it dies naturally through neutron absorption materials that naturally form int eh MSR over time. A Lead- cooled reactor can easily be cleaned since the lead, after being removed from the reactor, will naturally regain its non-radioactive state.

Morten Valestrand

Morten Valestrand


Scandinavian energy and industry journalist