December 15, 2009

Military and Resilience Spinoff Benefits if China Makes a Nuclear Merchant Fleet

Cosco (China's container ship company) CEO is seriously investigating the creation of nuclear powered container ships.

This site has already examined a study of the economics of nuclear power for commercial shipping. The study showed that a nuclear ship would be $40 million per year cheaper to operate when bunker oil is at $500/ton.
Those studies had indicated improved economics when bunker fuel is over $300/ton. Bunker oil is currently about $375/ton. Also, changing to nuclear powered container ships would reduce air pollution by the equivalent of about 20,000 cars converted to electric per container ship that is converted.

A second article had more analysis, pictures and video.

There are other benefits if China was to convert thousand of merchant container ships to have nuclear power.

Capacity 15,000 TEU (a big container ship)
Length 405 m
Beam 60 m
Draft 15.5 m
Speed 32 knots
Power 150 MW (200,000 SHP)
Propellers 2

1. A Just in Time Nuclear Navy.
2. Move up the experience curve on making nuclear power plants and nuclear ships.
3. Have a lot of mobile power plants that can help supply power in a electrical grid disrupting disaster
4. A low variable cost way to move military personnel

Just in Time Nuclear Navy

Merchant aircraft carriers (MAC) were bulk cargo ships with minimal aircraft handling facilities, used during World War II by Britain and the Netherlands as an interim measure to supplement British and United States-built escort carriers in providing an anti-submarine function for convoys.

The idea of simple adaptations of bulk cargo ships for aircraft had been considered by the Admiralty for some time. It would provide desperately needed air cover for convoys without losing valuable cargo capacity. There was, however, resistance to the concept arising from several technical issues; the 12 knot speed was considered too slow for aircraft operation, the design and development time was expected to take too long and aircraft movements on steel decks over highly flammable fuel cargoes was considered too dangerous

Nuclear merchant aircraft carriers would not have the slow speed penalty and would could be adjusted to not be as flammable since they would not have large fuel tanks. The hulls could also be rapidly upgrade with blast proof wall paper and other strengthening in the event of military need. However, there is a limited need for hardening of hulls as any ship that gets hit with missiles would probably sink anyway. So having more redundancy in military ships would be beneficial. The ships would need to dominate the airspace to prevent being hit.

The ships would not be widely available or in service until 2020-2030. So the flight decks would probably be mostly for launching unmanned aircraft (UAVs) and vessels.

Move up the Experience Curve on Nuclear Ships and Engines

China would learn how to be more efficient in building nuclear ships and engines if they have 1000 nuclear merchant ships. They would also have a lot engineering crews that are experienced in their operation.

Mobile Power in the Event of Disaster

If there was an earthquake, flooding or other disaster that damaged the electric grid, then it would help to have 150 MW powerplants that could quickly arrive and provide power. The nuclear merchant ships of 2020-2040 should have superconducting umbilicles to hook up to provide power to city grids that are cutoff. There also could be local reless power transmission setup.

Low variable cost way to move military personnel

The 20-100 person security teams could be navy, coast guard or marine units that could be more easily moved around the world. This would have various strategic advantages. They could facilitate troop rotations to embassies and foreign bases.

The follow up to this article in creating integrated shipping container lego modules for rapid conversion of merchant nuclear fleets and for lower costs and increasing the speed of deployment for buildings, facilities and structures of all kinds.

Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars.

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world's biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world's 760m cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel (or fuel oil) has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

Pressure is mounting on the UN's International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.

The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world's 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year in the US alone and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%

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