Japanese companies have invested $80 million in British startup Core Power to develop a floating nuclear power plant. About 13 companies, including Onomichi Dockyard and Imabari Shipbuilding, have invested. Core Power has raised about $100 million.
CORE POWER is part of the team that develops an MSR (molten salt reactor) that does not need a fuel assembly (which makes it simpler, cheaper and more efficient), operates at ambient pressure (which makes it safer and cheaper) and runs at a very high temperature (which produces heat more efficiently). A Molten salt reactor was built and tested by the USA in the 1960s and China has recently built a 2 megawatt MSR test reactor.
Because the fuel-salt is liquid, it is both the fuel which produces the heat and the coolant which transports the heat to the power conversion system that makes electric power. Since the fuel and coolant is combined into one and the fuel is always locked into the coolant, the reactor cannot melt-down.
MSRs can be mass manufactured as small modular machines.
A multinational team including Core Power, Southern Company, TerraPower and Orano USA are part of the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment which aims to see the “world’s first fast-spectrum salt reactor achieve criticality”, to be built at Idaho National Laboratory, backed by US Department of Energy (DOE) funding. Last year Core Power, MIT Energy Initiative and Idaho National Laboratory were granted research funding by the US DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program, a three-year study into the development of offshore floating nuclear power generation in the USA.
Core Power has stressed the safety benefits of molten salt reactors noting that the fuel and the coolant are mixed in a fuel-salt which is liquid at high temperatures and “using a liquid fuel where the fuel and coolant are the same, has immense implications on the safety of the reactor system, as a loss of coolant accident is impossible. An MSR cannot melt-down, because the fuel is already liquid and since the fuel is locked into the coolant, toxic radioisotopes which are formed in the fission process cannot escape into the environment in the event of an accident”. As Core Power Chairman and CEO Mikal Bøe put it in a World Nuclear News interview in 2021: “A ship may be lost at sea and may sink to 8000 metres on the ocean floor, but even then, it would not pollute the environment” with the MSR fuel “cooling until it’s a solid rock and that solid rock should be entombed inside the reactor vessel”.
Floating nuclear power plants are seen as having future growth potential because they provide flexible location options, being placed at sea from where they can provide electricity or hydrogen or water desalination for onshore use and Core Power says its aim is also to produce “a competitive true-zero emission power system for the future of maritime by 2030”.