Thor, a 149-metre replenishment, research and rescue vessel, will feature a thorium molten salt reactor (MSR) that will enable the vessel to operate as a mobile power/charging station for cruise ships.
Ulstein said the vessel concept is “capable of making the vision of zero-emission cruise operations a reality and “could be the missing piece of the zero emissions puzzle for a broad range of maritime and ocean industry applications”.
Ulstein’s chief designer, Oyvind Gjerde Kamsvag, said the company has long been interested in nuclear power but has been concerned about the stigma associated with this energy source. The company is now exploring MSR technology because it operates at a much lower pressure than other nuclear reactors and cannot suffer a meltdown.
MSRs are under development in several countries, and commercialisation is still some way off. However, Ulstein thinks that “we could launch a fully operational [nuclear-powered] ship within 10 to 15 years”, Mr Kamsvag said.
To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein has also developed the Ulstein SIF concept, a 100-metre long, zero-emission expedition cruise ship that will run on next-generation batteries, using Thor to recharge while at sea.
Thor’s charging capacity has been scaled to meet the power needs of four expedition cruise ships simultaneously. Thor itself would never need to refuel. It is intended to provide a blueprint for entirely self-sufficient vessels of the future, Ulstein said.
“We have the goals, ambition and environmental imperative to switch to zero-emission operations, but, until now, we haven’t had the solution,” said Ulstein chief executive officer Cathrine Kristiseter Marti. “We believe Thor might be the answer we’ve been looking for. Thor is essentially a floating, multi-purpose ‘power station’ that will enable a new battery revolution.”
Ulstein said expedition cruise ships operate in increasingly remote and environmentally fragile, areas. At the same time, the industry is facing growing pressure to reduce the environmental impact of cruising. Thor enables the replenishment of energy and supplies onsite, while having the technology to facilitate rescue operations and research work. “It is, in effect, a crucial piece of infrastructure to support sustainable and safer operations,” Ms Marti said. “Thor literally has the power to change our entire industry.”
Ulstein said MSRs are safe, efficient and operationally proven solutions that work by dissolving thorium – an abundant, naturally occurring metal with low radioactivity – in liquid salt. The ensuing chain reaction heats the salt, producing steam to drive a turbine and create electricity.