Captain Simon Chaplin
Maritime & Security Specialist, World Nuclear Transport Institute
Secretary General, World Nuclear Transport Institute
Since its formation in 1998, the World Nuclear Transport Institute has developed practices to safely, securely, reliably, and efficiently transport radioactive materials.
“Recently, the World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI) scope has broadened to have demonstrable alignment to sustainability. New and novel work in support of transportable nuclear power plants, with their various applications, clearly shows WNTI members’ commitment to contribute to the nuclear industry goal of being central to a net-zero carbon future,” says Martin Porter, Secretary General at the WNTI.
The 2050 net-zero emissions target cannot be met without nuclear power. Transportable nuclear power plants, including those being developed by WNTI members, will be an essential element in providing green energy to all communities.
The nuclear renaissance
Traditionally, large-scale nuclear sites with high-capacity nuclear plants have been used to generate electricity for national networks. While this ensures a source of power to large populations, it also means that remote regions cannot be served unless hundreds of miles of power cables are installed. Often, these remote locations use fossil fuels to generate power.
There’s a need for smaller-scale nuclear plants that can serve remote regions or specific industrial applications, and the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) is now gaining pace.
Rapid deployment and disaster relief
SMRs can be factory-built, using modular designs and production lines, thus reducing costs. Delivered to the site of operation, more modules can be added to meet future energy demands.
Some SMRs are delivered in a turnkey state, meaning that they’re ready for immediate use.
SMRs have many applications, including:
- Electricity generation
- Production of green hydrogen
- Heating for communities
- Industrial heating for steel, paper, and cement production
- Desalination of sea water to produce clean drinking water
SMRs are also well-suited to provide humanitarian aid and relief when a region is hit by a disaster. A containerized SMR can be rapidly transported to restore electricity, fresh drinking water, and heating.
Building on strong foundations
Different types of nuclear technologies are used in SMR designs. Some use modern developments of pressurized water reactors (PWRs), while others use alternate nuclear technologies such as molten salt reactors (MSRs).
PWRs have been used for many years, both for large-scale energy generation and for propulsion in naval vessels. This technology has high levels of safety-engineered into the plant to guarantee its safe operation.
MSRs incorporate safety by design. This means that the reactor will always return itself to a safe state should there be a problem. These designs cannot meltdown as the already-molten nuclear material inside will simply solidify if the reactor encounters a problem. By failing into a safe mode, all the radioactive material is locked into a solid, rock-like state.
Green energy — using less space and no waste
Unlike solar and wind power, SMRs don’t need much space. They can also be sited on floating platforms, thus further reducing the amount of land needed for the site. This makes them ideal for small island states where there’s a growing demand for sustainable, green energy.
Transporting and operating SMRs — security by design
The material in an MSR cannot be used to cause a nuclear explosion. It’s a different material from that used in nuclear weapons. Add to this all the physical barriers and safeguards that are built into the designs of all SMRs and the risks are reduced to a safe, manageable level. Throughout the lifecycle of an SMR, from initial construction until decommissioning and recycling, there are always sufficient safeguards in place.
The transportation of SMRs does pose some new challenges. Secure routes need to be established to ensure that the threats from terrorists are carefully mitigated. Weather routing and avoiding other navigational hazards must be incorporated into passage plans. It’s also vital to engage with the governments and populations of coastal communities to reassure them. The WNTI can support and inform such dialogue.