Floating barges equipped with advanced nuclear reactors could start to power developing nations in the mid-2020s, according to a Danish start-up.
Seaborg Technologies believes it can make cheap nuclear electricity a viable alternative to fossil fuels across the developing world as early as 2025.
Its seaborne “mini-nuclear bombs” have been designed for countries that lack the power grid infrastructure to develop utility-scale renewable energy projects, many of which continue to use gas, diesel and coal plants in its place.
The ships are equipped with one or more small nuclear reactors, which can generate electricity and transmit the energy to the mainland. The world’s first floating nuclear reactor began supplying heat and electricity to the Russian port of Pevek in the East Siberian Sea in December 2019.
Troels Schönfeldt, Seaborg’s chief executive, said the company’s compact 100-megawatt molten salt reactor would take two years to build and would generate electricity that would be cheaper than coal-fired power.
Seaborg has raised around € 20 million (£ 18.3 million) from private investors, including Danish retail billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, and received the first of the necessary regulatory approvals within a four-phase process from the American Bureau of Shipping. this week.
Most developing countries have not been able to pursue nuclear energy because it requires a carefully managed regulatory regime to prevent nuclear accidents or the proliferation of materials that could be used to create nuclear weapons.
Seaborg expects to begin receiving orders by the end of 2022 for the nuclear barges, which would be built in South Korea’s shipyards and towed ashore where they could be anchored for up to 24 years, he said.
The “turnkey solution” is important for fast-growing developing economies to power infant industries, purify drinking water and produce clean-burning hydrogen as demand for energy access soars in the coming years.
“The scale of the growth in energy demand in the developing world is staggering,” said Schönfeldt. “If we cannot find an energy solution for these countries, they will turn to fossil fuels and we will surely not meet our climate goals.”
The International Energy Agency has found that the growing demand for electricity, due to the growth of the world’s population and rising levels of wealth, is ongoing. to overcome the growth of renewable energies and increasing dependence on fossil fuels.
Although nuclear power has been used aboard maritime vessels for decades to power submarines and “icebreaker” tankers, Seaborg’s design would be one of the earliest examples of a commercially available nuclear barge used to supply electricity to the continent.
Chris Gadomski, nuclear analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “The concept of a floating nuclear power plant has been around for a long time and it makes perfect sense. But there are concerns. ”There was an inherent risk related to nuclear reactor technologies and floating power plants, so combining two could raise serious questions for investors and governments, he said.
“In places like the Philippines and Indonesia it makes perfect sense. But it wasn’t so long ago that the Philippines was the site of a great tsunami, and I don’t know how to protect myself against such a risk, ”he added.
Greenpeace’s Jan Haverkamp said the floating reactors were “a recipe for disaster”, including “all the flaws and risks of large land-based nuclear power plants.” “In addition to that, they face additional risks from the unpredictability of operation in coastal areas and transportation, particularly in a loaded state, on the high seas. Think of storms, think of tsunamis, ”he said.
Schönfeldt said the advanced reactor was designed to be as safe as possible in the worst-case scenario of an accident, with a system that causes radioactive material to form a solid rock outside the reactor core so that it cannot disperse in air or the sea in a catastrophic way. noxious gas or liquid.
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