Ulstein, a Norwegian shipbuilding expert, has presented “Thor”, a concept for the world’s first molten salt reactor (MSR) ship designed for zero-emission shipping.
Compared to conventional nuclear fission reactors, MSRs are far safer and can react to load changes much faster. At the same time, they can operate at higher thermal efficiencies and temperatures, so they can be made smaller. The particular one found in Thor uses thorium as a fuel, which doesn’t need high pressures and doesn’t produce much waste. Also, thorium is much less radioactive than uranium and short-lived.
“Thor” could be used in remote search and rescue operations or charge other ships that use electric power instead of mazut petrol. Ulstein claims Thor has the energy capacity to replenish four typical expedition cruise ships simultaneously, while the vessel itself would never need to refuel. This is why its maker calls the model “a blueprint for a self-sufficient future in shipping”.
For now, Thor is just a 100-meters long concept built to demonstrate the feasibility of the idea and spark the interest of investors in the maritime industry. This field is one of the most plagued ones when it comes to finding ways to decrease carbon emissions and meet the ever-stricter environmental policies. MSRs have massive potential for offering a solution to this, as they’re an abundant source of clean energy.
The problem with MSRs is that they are considered unproven technology, for which there is no regulatory context to operate legally right now. Also, they are prone to corrosion risks, and some of them require onsite chemical processing to manage the core mixture and remove the fission products.
While these elements complicate the proposal, Ulstein believes that MSRs are the only viable and credible solution that can be implemented at the scale required for commercial deployment and which doesn’t have forbidding costs.