The Future of Nuclear Power: How Close is Nuclear Powered Transportation?


The global nuclear energy sector has been witnessing strong and steady growth in recent decades and the future of nuclear power is expected to continue flourishing as higher adoptions of nuclear power will be witnessed in our modern world. The demand for nuclear power is primarily being driven by the increasing population along with improved lifestyles which has resulted in an augmented energy demand from households. The commercial and industrial developments worldwide have also stimulated the energy consumption from various of industries, including the manufacturing, logistics, and transportation sectors. To meet these energy requirements, many countries and organizations have brought nuclear propulsion systems into wider use, therefore the future of nuclear power sector is expected to witness an increase in nuclear powered transports in the global market.

Nuclear Energy Market Analysis

Nuclear power is converted from the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. According to the recent report from the World Nuclear Association, the global nuclear electricity output was 2506 TWh in 2017, an increase of 29 TWh compared to 2016. This marked the fifth successive year that nuclear output has increased, with generation of 160 TWh higher than in 2012. Today, nuclear energy accounts for over 11% of the world’s electricity generations. There are approximately 450 nuclear power reactors in operation and around 60 more reactors are under construction as of early 2019, equivalent to about 15% of existing capacity.

The regulatory authorities and local government institutions are promoting nuclear technology to negate the effect of CO? emissions from power plants. Governments are encouraging the construction and operation of nuclear power plants by offering tax incentives and subsidies and have also come up with nuclear energy incentives. For instance, the industry and finance ministries in the Czech Republic are promoting nuclear power. Additionally, Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica is a Romanian company, which is supported by the Government of Romania to complete two nuclear reactor projects in 2019 and 2020.

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Are More Nuclear-Powered Transports the Future of Nuclear Power?

Apart from building more nuclear power plants, the growing environment concerns and low emission requirements around the world have also facilitated the advent of nuclear powered transports, such as nuclear powered cars, ships, and trains. Although there are still numerous drawbacks and challenges to fully implement nuclear power into our day-to-day transports, the major benefits, such as environment-friendliness with reduced emissions and stronger power dynamics, have boosted the R&D of nuclear propulsion systems in various of transport modes.

Nuclear Powered Cars

As a concept, nuclear powered cars are expected to contribute significantly towards reducing air pollution and resolving global warming. One of the major benefits for nuclear powered cars is that it rarely needs to be refilled. This is because the highly concentrated uranium can offer consistent energy for a long time. Research shows that less than a pound of concentrated uranium can produce enough energy to power a car. However, the practicality of installing nuclear propulsion systems on cars, the establishment of the infrastructure and a standardized process to dispose used uranium from nuclear powered cars, as well as the safety concerns towards highly radioactive substance still pose huge challenges to the industry. Therefore, the nuclear-powered cars may still be far from our reach.

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Nuclear Powered Ships

Nuclear power is particularly suitable for big ships which need to be at sea for long periods without refuelling or have high requirements for power dynamics like naval vessels or icebreaker ships. Nuclear powered ships have been widely adopted since the 1950s, although most of these ships are operated in military, only a few commercial nuclear ships exist. According to the report from World Nuclear Association, there are over 140 ships around the world that are powered by nuclear reactors and most are submarines, icebreakers, and aircraft carriers.

The US Navy launched the Great Green Fleet program that focuses on setting up a new environment-friendly assault force that will regulate the carbon footprint and destroy its enemy as well. Initiatives like these and commitments by the US aim to reduce about 34% of greenhouse emissions by 2020. One of the latest trends that will gain traction in the global nuclear-powered naval vessels market is the technological developments targeted towards the next-generation nuclear reactor, which is expected to further push the nuclear technology to be adopted in naval vessels sector in the near future.

Nuclear powered commercial ships, on the other hand, have not been successful mainly due to high costs. However, with rising oil prices combined with growing environmental concerns, as well as the development of nuclear technologies, the future of nuclear power sector is expected to see more commercial ships powered by this energy.

Nuclear Powered Submarines

The nuclear powered submarine is becoming increasingly common around the world. For instance, all of the US aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear-powered. Russia has the largest nuclear submarine fleet and its 26,500 tonne Typhoon-class, powered by twin 190 MWt PWR reactors, is the world’s largest nuclear powered submarine. China has about 12 nuclear powered submarines and was building 21 more as of early 2019. Other major countries such as the UK, France, and India all have fleets of nuclear powered submarines in operation. These submarines are gaining prominence in the future of nuclear power owing to rising fossil fuel prices and advanced combat technologies.

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Nuclear Powered Rocket

Nuclear powered rockets still remain as a concept that has been proposed and tested. So far there is no nuclear powered rocket that has ever flown. Although nuclear powered rockets do not exist yet, relevant nuclear technologies are expected to facilitate the future of space missions. For example, nuclear thermal rockets can provide great performance advantages compared to chemical propulsion systems. Nuclear power sources could also be used to provide the spacecraft with electrical power for operations and scientific instrumentation.

Nuclear Powered Train

Just like the nuclear powered car or nuclear powered rocket, the nuclear powered train is another concept that has not yet become a reality. The concept of a nuclear powered train has the potential to operate with higher speed and reduced CO2 emissions. Other benefits of having nuclear powered trains include economic and transport efficiency and the ability to conduct long distance transportations without the need to stop. Another feature with these proposed trains is that it can easily be converted to a mobile nuclear power plant, supplying energy to remote areas and industrial sites. However, the concerns for cost and safety issues still remain as some of the market’s toughest challenges.

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