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Crowley Partners with BWXT to Develop Nuclear Power Generation Vessels

Crowley nuclear power generation vessel
Crowley's concept is to place nuclear reactors on ships to provide power as a disaster response and in remote locations (Crowley)

Published Sep 20, 2023 3:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

Crowley which positions itself as a maritime, energy, and logistics company, is the latest to explore the possibility of using a new generation of microreactors aboard ships to provide emergency power supplies. Other companies including Samsung have also reported they are exploring using smaller nuclear reactors and new technologies such as Molten Salt to create power barges. Crowley highlights the opportunities to generate alternative, zero-carbon emission energy for defense and disaster response needs.

Crowley has entered into a memorandum of understanding to work with BWX Technologies on the development of the power generation vessel concept using a microreactor. For many years, BWTX operated as a part of The Babcock & Wilcox Company, a leader dating back to the 1850s in steam boilers, and in 2015 Babcock & Wilcox spun off its power generation business to allow BWXT to focus on government and nuclear operations. Today, BWTX is a leading supplier of nuclear components, fuel, and services to the U.S. government.

“Our cooperation with BWXT will move Crowley for the first time into the nuclear energy sector, a key part of our commitment to sustainable, alternative energy sources,” said Shiju Zacharia, senior vice president and general manager, Crowley Government Solutions. “This concept supports the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal of maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology as well as many of the U.S. Department of Defense’s strategic goals for operational energy.”

The companies will work jointly to develop opportunities relative to the design, engineering, and development of new shallow-draft hull ships that will supply small-scale nuclear energy to shoreside locations. The concept is that the onboard power plant would supply energy to shore facilities, such as military bases in remote island locations, backup utility grids after disasters, and provide power in other scenarios where traditional electricity sources are damaged or not possible. 

The new ships would be 378 feet in length developed from Crowley’s expertise in shipping and the company’s in-house designs by Crowley Engineering Services. The vessel will feature the latest technology available for factory-fabricated microreactors, readily deployed into a shipyard configuration for ease of installation on the vessel.

It would use traditional propulsion while carrying a modular reactor between 5 and 50 megawatts that can be activated upon arrival at the destination and be deactivated and transported after the power supply is discontinued. The vessel would also carry power delivery cables which will enable the ships to deploy energy connections to shore. The shallow draft hulls would allow the vessels to maneuver to strategically deliver power for military activities or if disasters limit harbor access.

Samsung is looking at placing nuclear reactors on barges and in a similar concept Washington state-based ThorCon and Indonesia’s power and research innovation authorities have agreed to explore the concept to increase the country’s power supply. BV joined the project in December to develop reactors as a power supply for Indonesia. The country’s regulators have indicated that they will issue an experimental nuclear power plant operating permit for the project. The goal is to have the commercial power supply available by 2030.