You've Heard of Offshore Wind; Now, Offshore Nuclear Is a Thing

CORE POWER announced that it and its partners, the MIT Energy Initiative and the Idaho National Laboratory, were granted funding by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) for a three-year study into the development of offshore floating nuclear power generation in the U.S.

“It is an important step forward for CORE POWER to be working with the world-renowned MIT Energy Initiative. We believe this will help us take the next step in bringing ground-breaking new nuclear technology to the maritime market,” said Mikal Bøe, chairman and CEO of UK-based CORE POWER.

CORE POWER has for some time been actively investigating, testing, and designing systems for offshore power production combined with industrial processes. The company has suggested its technology could benefit island states in the Pacific, Caribbean, or Southeast Asia that “cannot viably benefit from huge offshore wind farm installations or solar power.”

“By deploying advanced small reactors on floating power stations, we can provide clean local power to small grids powering communities with heating and cooling, providing reliable lighting, and enabling clean charging of electric vehicles. Floating power also means immunity from earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, which may otherwise destroy conventional power sources on land,” the company has said.

The NEUP funding “will allow detailed collaborative research into the economic and environmental benefits of floating advanced nuclear power generation and take a granular look at all aspects of building, operating, maintaining, and decommissioning such facilities,” CORE POWER said in a statement.

The funding for CORE POWER’s research is at least partly tied to a hydrogen hub initiative the DOE is facilitating. On June 6, the DOE released a Notice of Intent to fund the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $8 billion program to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs) across America. It said “H2Hubs will create networks of hydrogen producers, consumers, and local connective infrastructure to accelerate the use of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier.”

“This NEUP project will among other things look at how a nuclear-powered H2Hub off the coast of the U.S. could set the scene and demonstrate how we make hydrogen production safe, cheap, and reliable by placing the production unit offshore,” Bøe said.

John Parsons, associate director for Research at MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, and the principal investigator on the project, said, “As the U.S. moves to decarbonize diverse industries, including shipping, we will have to explore and understand novel applications of technologies like nuclear and hydrogen production. This NEUP project will help us do that.”

CORE POWER believes green hydrogen could be a source for making zero-carbon transportation fuels and replacement heat for green steel production. The company has said, “Green hydrogen must be made from water by electrolysis, and the best place to do so is at sea. There we are surrounded by an infinite heat-sink, have access to an endless supply of water, and we can scale the size of our installation much more easily than we can on land.”

The company envisions moving heavy processing of foodstuffs and minerals out onto floating facilities. “These floating production platforms would be powered by advanced reactors providing 100% clean energy and industrial heat, and would transform the value-chain of many such processes currently being done on land,” it has said.

CORE POWER has been associated with TerraPower’s molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR) technology, which is one of the DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program projects. In October 2020, the DOE announced it had selected Bellevue, Washington–based TerraPower to receive $80 million in initial funding to build an advanced nuclear reactor that could be operational within seven years.

TerraPower is working with CORE POWER, Orano, Southern Company, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in addition to other private companies, labs, and universities, to build the reactor, which would be the world’s first fast-spectrum salt reactor. The DOE has said MCFR technology “transfers heat with incredible efficiency and can be utilized for thermal storage, process heat, or electricity production.”

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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