NuScale Joins the Race for a Next-Gen Floating Nuclear Power Plant

Illustration courtesy NuScale

Published Oct 26, 2022 9:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

A U.S. West Coast-based nuclear power startup has released a new design for a barge-mounted power station, which would use a next-generation small modular reactor (SMR) to provide utility-scale electrical power. 

The floating nuclear power station is a concept dating back to the construction of the Sturgis, a converted Liberty Ship with a nuclear reactor which operated in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1970s. Today the concept is in use by Russia's Rosatom, which has deployed a barge-mounted nuclear power plant at the remote Arctic port of Pevek

Portland-based NuScale Power, a designer of next-generation small modular reactors (SMRs), is working with Canadian mobile-reactor company Prodigy Clean Energy on the design of a new "marine power station." The concept is scalable up to about 900 megawatts. The floating station would be transported to a harbor for permanent mooring and connected to shoreside utility grid. Only after arrival and commissioning would its nuclear fuel be installed. At end-of-life, it could be floated off for decommissioning. 

The commercial advantages of floating nuclear may be attractive. The structure can be built off-site at a shipyard, where the infrastructure and workforce for efficient construction already exist. Serial construction methods are possible, unlocking economies of scale. Site permitting and preparation are reduced as well, since construction occurs elsewhere and the reactor does not occupy land.

"By packaging the [NuScale Power Module] into Prodigy’s marine facility, we will offer countries a near-term solution to address energy security and to decarbonize their economies, including replacing coal-fired plants – many of which are located at the coast,” said Mathias Trojer, Prodigy Clean Energy President and Chief Executive Officer.

Floating nuclear power is attracting more R&D attention as the push for decarbonization accelerates. Palo Alto-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has released a novel proposal to manufacture green fuels using electricity from a floating nuclear power plant anchored at sea, much like an FPSO. Core Power, a company headquartered in the UK, believes that it would be practical to produce one million tonnes of "green" ammonia per year using 1.2 GW of modular nuclear reactor power on a floating platform. And in South Korea, Samsung Heavy Industries has formed a partnership with Danish nuclear-reactor startup Seaborg to develop floating nuclear power plant barges using compact molten salt reactor technology.