UK to Adopt Regulations for Nuclear Powered Commercial Ships

UK nuclear regulations
Ulstein earlier this year proposed a concept exploration cruise ship with a molten salt nuclear reactor (Ulstein)

Published Aug 25, 2022 4:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK is posed to enact legislation later this year to provide the structure necessary to support the use of nuclear power in merchant shipping. Based on the belief that interest is growing in the potential use of nuclear power as a means to address the decarbonization challenge for the maritime industry, the UK’s Department for Transportation and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are taking final steps toward the enactment of the Merchant Shipping (Nuclear Ships) Regulations.  

While it is largely a technical move to incorporate SOLAS elements into the UK regulations, it is nonetheless critical to providing structure and seen as a sign of the commercial industry’s newfound interest in nuclear propulsion. The regulations, which are expected to become effective at the end of November 2022, implement the requirements of SOLAS Chapter VII which codifies the building and operating standards in the Nuclear Code. According to the MCA, the regulation, along with strong ties with other nations such as the United States, will increase the likelihood of UK-flagged nuclear-powered ships. 

“This is an important milestone in the regulatory progress for New Nuclear in Maritime,” says Mikal Boe, Founder and CEO of Core Power, a marine engineering company working on the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies for maritime use.

The enactment of the regulations will complete a multi-year effort by the UK designed to make nuclear power an option for the commercial shipping industry. After publishing the proposed regulations, the MCA conducted a consultation period for the industry to provide input on the regulation. They specifically asked a series of questions seeking to identify interest, the need for the rules, the consequences of the regulations, and the difficulties of meeting the survey and inspection regime contained in the regulation.

A total of 14 companies replied to the MCA. They included class societies, shipping organizations, researchers, and the commercial shipping industry. In October 2021, the MCA released the results of the consultation saying it intended to move forward without significant amendments to the draft legislation.

Among the key findings from the comments submitted was a strong interest in the potential of nuclear power for commercial shipping. A total of 11 of the 14 respondents agreed with the MCA that there is an appetite for nuclear ships over the next 10 years, specifically with a growing interest in nuclear propulsion for large ocean-going vessels.

A majority of the responses also agreed with the MCA that it was unlikely that a new or existing nuclear ship would be flagged in the UK before 2030. However, the majority of respondents also raised the possibility that nuclear ships might well be under construction by 2030.

As a further sign of the industry’s potential exploration of nuclear power, last week the American Bureau of Shipping reported that it had received a contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to study nuclear-powered commercial shipping. The research will explore the challenges of adopting new reactor technology in commercial maritime applications. ABS said it will be developing models using different advanced reactor technologies for maritime applications and an industry advisory on the commercial use of modern nuclear power.