Marine

Ulstein reveals thorium-powered ship concept to support ecocruising

Ulstein reveals thorium-powere...
The nuclear-powered Thor concept
The nuclear-powered Thor concept
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The nuclear-powered Thor concept
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The nuclear-powered Thor concept
Thor (left) is designed to recharge the batteries of cruise ships like Sif (right)
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Thor (left) is designed to recharge the batteries of cruise ships like Sif (right)
Sif is an 80-passenger polar cruiser concept
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Sif is an 80-passenger polar cruiser concept
The Sif concept
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The Sif concept
Thor would use a thorium molten-salt reactor
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Thor would use a thorium molten-salt reactor
Thor is designed as a multipurpose ship
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Thor is designed as a multipurpose ship
Thor (right) and Sif (left) concepts
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Thor (right) and Sif (left) concepts
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Norway-based marine group Ulstein has introduced Thor, its concept design for a 149-m (489-ft) replenishment, research and rescue (3R) ship powered by a thorium Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) that can be used to recharge battery-driven cruise ships at sea.

As environmental consciousness grows, ecotourism has become a booming business, but with the desire to visit exotic environments comes the need to protect these often under-threat locations. This is particularly urgent for cruise ships going into the polar regions, which are notoriously fragile.

Polar cruises not only have to deal with the intrinsic needs to protect the Arctic and Antarctic coastal regions, but also meet increasingly stringent government regulations and pressure from environmental groups. On top of this, icy seas make refueling ships away from port difficult, expensive, and potentially damaging to the surrounding area.

Thor (left) is designed to recharge the batteries of cruise ships like Sif (right)
Thor (left) is designed to recharge the batteries of cruise ships like Sif (right)

To overcome this, Ulstein is looking to the multi-purpose Thor, which would not only be able to operate in polar seas to carry out research and rescue missions independent of refueling, but could also recharge the next generation of electrically propelled cruise ships that run off large battery banks.

Since Thor is designed to recharge these future cruise ships, Ulstein is also working on the Sif concept, which is a 100-m (330 ft), 80-passenger, 80-crew battery-powered Ice Class 1C vessel that could be recharged at sea by the nuclear-powered Thor.

Thor would use a portable Generation IV MSR thorium reactor, which is fueled by thorium rather than uranium. In an MSR, the thorium is dissolved into a mixture of salts heated to up to 700 °C (1,292 °F). This mixture acts as both a coolant and the container for the thorium. Because it is a molten salt reactor, it is under atmospheric pressure and uses passive cooling systems that can operate in an emergency shutdown. This molten mix also means that the reactor can be refueled and cleansed through a chemical loop.

Thor is designed as a multipurpose ship
Thor is designed as a multipurpose ship

According to Ulstein, it would crank out enough power for four expedition cruise ships at the same time and its nuclear reactor wouldn't need refueling for the life of the vessel. Both Thor and Sif are based on Ulstein's X-BOW ship design and their electric propulsion allows for silent cruising. Along with the reactor, Thor's design has helipads, firefighting gear, rescue booms, workboats, laboratories, and a lecture lounge.

"MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping," said Jan Emblemsvåg, Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, an expert in the field of Thorium and nuclear power generation. "There is so much uncertainty over future fuels, but here we have an abundant energy source that, with the right approach, can be safe, much more efficient, cheaper, with a smaller environmental footprint than any existing alternative. From my perspective, I see this as the most viable, and potentially the only credible, solution for a zero-emission fleet that can operate under commercial terms and cost levels. The ‘Thor’ concept is exactly the kind of innovation we need for sustainable success at sea."

The video below introduces Thor.

Thor

Source: Ulstein

View gallery - 7 images
13 comments
13 comments
claudio
Nuclear power, salts heated to up to 700 °C (1,292 °F) and a ship that could face extremely rough seas: what could possibly go wrong?
michael_dowling
claudio: Good point,but in any case, it will take years to get this in the water. I am surprised by the suggestion it would be used to recharge battery powered ships. I am all for battery power,but for ocean going ships,cross country trains,and especially aircraft, batteries will never be up to the job. Fuel cells powered by green hydrogen would be the best way to power these applications.
Demosthenes
Who needs a Molten Salt Reactor, but where is the roller coaster for spoiled customers?
paul314
If this works (especially the recharging part) it would make an enormous difference in ecologically sensitive areas. Few things quite so sad as viewing ostensibly pristine wilderness while breathing diesel fumes.
tekteam26
I'm sure that the engineers behind this concept fully understand the environment in which this ship will be operating, the dynamics of a MSR and how to design it to be safely operated even in extremely rough seas. The Thorium-Uranium MSR fuel cycle is very efficient, produces a minimum of long half-life nuclides, is extremely safe since it operates at one-atmosphere pressure and has plentiful fuel supplies since thorium is a byproduct of rare earth metal mining already. So it is far less risky and more environmentally friendly than a lot of other options out there.
WillNC
Now we are talking a thorium reactor up and running to power a ship? Oh, it's not even prototyped yet just a concept. Nice idea, cool looking ship but why is it shown as if a reality? From my reading thorium should be the future of fission reactors for many reasons but in a ship?
frost84292
Do some searches and research on Thorium before you just dismiss it. The U.S. did all of the research in the 50's on Thorium reactors. The government in its short sidedness and politics chose our current more dangerous nuclear program because it also makes bombs. You can't make a bomb from Thorium (at least with our current technology). It is sad that our lobbies are so powerful as to kill any talk much less progress in this field. Trump mentioned it once. If you want almost free energy Thorium is the safest most abundant source. Not sure about putting it on the water though. Salts dissolve in water. Don't be lead, be wise.
John
In my opinion, small reactors also make much more sense for powered cargo ships (and cruise ships), not just this ship. Batteries just don't make sense to me for crossing the ocean, and nuclear makes much more sense than hydrogen for ships as well. The technology is already developed and has been proven safe in aircraft carriers and submarines. Any obstacle to using reactors for ships is regulatory/PR, while the technology is ready now.
Username
Why not equip the cruise ship with the reactor and bypass the recharging all together while also saving on batteries.
bytheway
Typical of the battery people......lets build a clean running reactor driven battery charger to save stranded floating batteries on the high seas instead of building reactor driven tourist boats that would need no billion dollar support ships.......and yes, the anti nuclear crowd gets all foamy mouthed at the thought but there are nuclear powered ships and subs in operation safely for decades....time to get off the hippie nuclear free zones......
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