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Bill Gates joins nuclear-powered shipping push

Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, has turned his attention to getting ships powered by nuclear energy.

The Microsoft co-founder, who turned 65 last week, is also chairman of TerraPower, a nuclear tech company that today announced a new venture with Mikal Bøe’s CORE POWER, French nuclear materials handling specialist Orano and American utilities firm Southern Company. The four companies plan to develop molten salt reactor (MSR) atomic technology in the United States.

“We’re pleased to work with such outstanding partners in developing game-changing technology to help transport and industry transition to a clean energy future,” said Mikal Bøe, CEO of London-based CORE POWER, which has been making headlines in recent months for its atomic batteries aimed at the marine market.

The four companies have submitted an application to the US Department of Energy to take part in cost-share risk reduction awards under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme to build a prototype MSR, as a proof-of-concept for a medium-scale commercial-grade reactor.

“The implications of the MSR for transport and industry could be transformational, as we seek to build scale-appropriate technology and broad acceptance of modern and durable liquid-fuelled atomic power to shape the future of how we deal with climate change,” Bøe commented today.

The CORE POWER units are based on marine molten salt reactors (m-MSRs), a technology using thorium that dates back to the 1960s and is capable of powering the largest ships afloat today.

In the m-MSR atomic battery, the fuel is the coolant and the coolant is the fuel, so coolant cannot be lost. Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic chemical element found most commonly in India and is a substance that Gates’ TerraPower has been studying closely of late.

Admitting the technology would not be cheap to install on ships, Bøe has proposed a leasing model for his batteries, similar to those deployed for aircraft engines.

Bøe’s atomic battery invention (pictured below) has been much discussed in the shipping industry in recent months.

At a webinar in Singapore last week, Andreas Sohmen-Pao, the chairman of BW Group, discussed the potential dramatic market shifts brought about by atomic energy being deployed widespread on the merchant fleet.

“The change in the industry is going to be massive and maybe catastrophic because you will have ships going 50% faster because the fuel is essentially free once you’ve paid the up front capex investment and the tanks will be empty because you will have cheap electricity around the world without intermittency,” Sohmen-Pao mused.

Bjørn Højgaard, the CEO of Hong Kong shipmanager Anglo-Eastern told sister title Splash Extra in September: “I think that in 50 years nuclear molten-salt-reactors will be par for the course in the shipping industry, and we will look back at the current time and wonder why we dabbled in alternative pathways for greenhouse gas-free propulsion.”

Writing for Splash earlier this year, Bøe claimed: “The reality is that the only viable technology which can deliver a durable combination of close-to-zero emissions, marine-level reliability, walk-away safety and competitive economics, is atomic energy.”

Bøe’s extensive shipping career has seen him work as chief risk officer to well-known shipowners in the past decade, developing what he claims was the first internet venture for the shipping industry back in the 1990s and establishing Cleartrade Exchange in Singapore 10 years ago.

This article originally appeared on Splash247

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