I received an update from Benjamin Haas, the SUNY Maritime student who has been working on nuclear powered ship designs from a complete systems perspective for the past three semesters. He and his team have not just focused on the technical aspects of designing a power plant and a ship that could take full advantage of that plant; they have also paid careful attention to regulations, politics, and economics.
Benjamin entered a poster summarizing their conclusions into a contest at the New York Advanced Energy Conference and earned 3rd place. Here is one of the most thought provoking graphics from the poster.
Benjamin sent me and Guilian Crommelin (a retired Dutch Navy Captain with whom I have been communicating since 1994 about our shared interest in nuclear heated gas turbines) a report on his experience at the conference. He gave me permission to share that report with you.
Please note the discussions with visitors to his poster display. There is a great deal of interest in nuclear energy; I hope more people are inspired by the effort Benjamin is making to share what he has learned about the value of nuclear energy as a tool for solving some of humanity’s most challenging problems.
From: Benjamin Haas
I am pleased to report that I received 3rd place among the undergraduates for the New York Advanced Energy Conference poster session. I have been busy with finals and completing our ship design report since last Monday. The conference was very useful for me because I got experience speaking to people, some of whom are professionally involved with energy, about nuclear power.
The venue was fairly large and mostly a New England demographic. The plenary speaker was an author of a book titled “The Coming Energy Revolution”. He discredited Malthusian claims and conveyed optimism for the economic and social gains of enabling energy usage for the developing World.
I felt like I was among friends because the people I spoke with, students and professionals, are very concerned about how to get environmentally benign, low cost energy to the rest of the world. My impression is that that they would be open to learn about nuclear power from the standpoint that it can solve many of the problems that deeply concern them, but they simply don’t hear this narrative about nuclear power. A topic addressed at the conference was that renewables are not making fast enough gains. My interpretation of this is that all they hear about are renewables, batteries, and efficiency and are running into their limitations; most of the graduate posters were about batteries and net-zero homes (houses that are completely self sufficient for heating and electricity). Definitely a very important concept for developing nations, but not when countries increase their standards of living, or for industrial activities.
Students and professionals asked me about terrorism and safety. I explained the gas-cooled reactor concept, careful not to give them the impression that light water reactors are unsafe. I spoke about my ideas from the perspective that PWRs are not good for competing directly with oil and gas in replacing the diesel engine and gas turbine. One challenge I had was introducing the commercial maritime industry to people who are unfamiliar with it. I found that a common ground was the upcoming IMO’s sulfur emissions limitations, to which a number of people nodded their head, impressed with the information, and said, “That’s good!”
Here are some paraphrased conversations that I had with people at the conference about my research. I focused on keeping my tone firm but educational:
Student: “I think nuclear power would work great for ships and what you have here is a great idea, but there’s one reason these would never be accepted: terrorism.”
Me: “What kind of nuclear accident do you believe terrorists can cause with these reactors?”
Student: “There’s spent nuclear fuel inside.”
Me: “They can’t access it. It is sealed inside the reactor vessel. Even if they did open it up, the radiation would kill them. It’s like it is protecting itself.”
The student started to reconsider his concerns. Towards the end of the event (he was part of the poster session), he seemed cautious, but not discouraged about nuclear shipping.
Professional: “This is very interesting. I was a public policy major in school and I interned at the NRC When I see nuclear power I think of the social concerns, the stigma it faces.”
Me: “That’s cool you got to work for the NRC. I hear they are one of the most effective federal agencies. It’s interesting you mention public policy because the misconceptions and fears about nuclear power are starting to look like a social problem; it’s taught growing up, you see it in the media, TV shows, hear it from friends and family.”
Professional: *Nodding his head* “I see what you’re getting at. That’s interesting.”
Patent attorney: “I’m a patent attorney and I’m a graduate from King’s Point. I don’t usually see innovative ideas like this from the maritime industry. Typically they adopt technologies from elsewhere. Here is my card.
Me: “I believe that the adoption of nuclear power for ships is the intersection of the commercial maritime industry with broader world problems.”
Student: “I spent a lot of time learning about nuclear power myself and I know it is capable of so much and we should use more of it. I just wish there was some way of dealing with the waste.”
Me: “There is; nuclear waste can be recycled. Spent nuclear fuel can be reprocessed and put into fast reactors and turned into electricity. It is currently available technology. Geologic storage of the remaining waste is a viable solution.” I then spoke about Oklo Africa and stabilizing the materials into glass. His eyes lit up when he heard that nuclear waste can be used.
I handed a few of those Radiation is Safe within Limits pamphlets. I only handed them out to people who were interested; they were expensive and I did not want to waste them!
We’re almost done with the nuclear ship design. I am proofreading, checking the math, and formatting it now; 140 pages, over 30,000 words, 3 semester of work.
Gulian, during our presentation to the class on our NEREUS-powered container ship, a material scientist/mechanical engineer said aloud that (the NEREUS reactor) is the most innovative idea he has ever seen.