Following swiftly in the wake of COP26, the UN-backed international climate summit, another step has been taken towards getting atomic reactors onboard merchant ships.

Southern Company, an American utility firm, has signed an agreement with the US Department of Energy to demonstrate the world’s first fast-spectrum salt reactor in collaboration with Bill Gates-chaired TerraPower and Idaho National Laboratory.

The molten chloride reactor experiment is part of a five-year, $170m cost-shared funding agreement which will provide operational data for fast-spectrum salt reactors with partners looking to then harness the technology to power the next generation of commercial ships. TerraPower and Southern Power are also working with Mikal Bøe-led CORE POWER to develop this new atomic technology for ships. CORE POWER now has the backing and investment from a host of owners who, combined, control more than 2,000 ocean-going vessels.

“The molten chloride reactor experiment will support the commercialization of a revolutionary technology on a timescale that addresses climate change benchmarks and delivers on Southern Company’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” said Dr Mark Berry, Southern Company vice president of R&D.

The reactor experiment will be the world’s first fast-spectrum, salt-fuelled nuclear fission reactor to go critical, meaning that it is operating on a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

The Office of Nuclear Energy in the US has also just announced $8.5m in funding to help commercialise promising advanced nuclear technologies, including TerraPower’s molten salt reactor design.

Dr Kathryn Huff, the principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy, commented: “Advanced reactors will completely change the way we engineer, build, and operate nuclear reactors.


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