Maritime nuclear power generation, modularity and leased lifecycle systems for reduced ecological footprint
By R.Kempas (FHS)
Staying on the theme. In 1981 I read the book by John Satchwell about future energy sources at age six. (yes, I was teased in school for having a big head.)
Good old John promised that we'd be out of oil and coal in the next couple of decades. His fix was wind, solar and all the usual eco-warrior banter... plus nuclear power!
While scouring for ideas last year on how to resurrect the mighty Finnjet from the horrors of the furnace, someone dropped the bomb. Nuclear Finnjet, or perhaps more appropriately FinnAtom. Surely a mad idea. People would be scared, just like the LZ 129 "Hindenburg" burn-up ruined things for rigid airships.
Was General Atomics still around? Sure enough and whoa mommy, they were working on a gas turbine modular helium reactor! A very high efficiency rate, but not ready for duty.
A tickling thought, could this be a way of the future now that people are perhaps once again learning to trust properly maintained nuclear power generation? Take this from someone who actually stood in the Chernobyl rain! Older plants have served USN fleet carriers for decades without hickups!
The nuclear freighter NS Savannah was ahead of her time and was deemed obsolete, slightly in the manner as our Finnjet was. What axed the Savannah, which incidentally serves as a museum ship today...?
She required more mariners to operate and had insufficient cargo capacity. But her endurance speaks volumes. 300.000NM on one load of fuel!
These are issues that can be rectified now that fifty years have passed. The GT-MHR is a simplified and rather maintenance-free machine. Magnetic bearings even cut down the need for lubrication for the GT. Could we have this in a true powerpack format? Imagine a self-contained unit in a basic swappable container design. Prefueled for a decade or two? Just drop it in thru the hatch in the car deck and hook up the coolant lines, control connectors and power cables. Once your unit is in a fault state or needs refueling and major overhaul, perhaps the unit could be swapped in a mere day to a fresh overhauled unit. I could see a trendsetter here. If the manufacturer promises a mere state one situation for a complete loss of coolant, this would be in other words a rather carefree and safe unit.
The beauty of this design is the simplicity and time-proven reliability of the gas turbine design. The turbine can be extracted from time-tested aviation stocks. The only reciprocating engine would have to be the emergency diesel or perhaps two of them, to heat up the helium when the reactor is cold. Everything comes from one powerpack, be that propulsion electricity, low voltage electricity or heat generation.
Once fuel oil becomes too expensive, will we see rechargeable hydrogen ships where power transfer losses will be significant, or ships that run completely independent in this manner perhaps? I'd pick the ship with the leased GT-MHR lifecycle package... if it were available.
Let's keep on imagining and continue on the theme of modularity. Why is it that I expected the maritime world to be highly modularized and found the contrary? Why do we not have modular turnkey bridges and engine control rooms to begin with? The scrapper's bill is filling with mid 1980's freighters. Fatigued hulls, fatigued machines, poor maintenance or obsolete designs? This is a very short career run.
What about leased modular systems? How many of these scrappings could be delayed if a single fault-state or obsolete unit could be easily swapped into a new one under a carefree long-term leasing agreement? I can see how appealing it is to scrap a ship, where you gain let's say 5M$ for the steel, when you're in the need of a 5M$ new engine. Far from ecological. This could be a legal entry point into the arena: "Since repair is feasible, you will repair the vessel or face a fine".
Fleet commonality & shared experiences:
One other thing caught my eye. With every single ship being almost unique in hull size and form, how many hulls come out that are not optimal? How many of these waste 5% of energy compared to a better form? Or even 10%? How is it that the skies are filled with just dozens of variations, but the seas have thousands of them? Is this because on the sea the buyer is the boss and in the air the maker of the airplane offers a plain "take it or leave it" -option? Would Everett or Toulouse offer a tailored project to a client who can't book more than 100 orders for the special vehicle? Doubtful. Anything goes on the sea, it seems. You ask for a Knock Nevis... and end up with a ship with no use for anyone. You can always get a good price for an old B744 and her common spare parts.
Would my propositions axe technology demonstrators such as the former GTS Finnjet? With highly uniform standardized design, manufacturing and maintenance processes, that also dig deep into previous case histories (does anyone collect data at Alang?), I suppose Finnjet would have only lived as a computer simulation. Perhaps we should appreciate our ships being so varied, but the planet won't like it.