Ongoing research into small-scale nuclear energy conversion has advanced to greatly increase safety with the development of sodium-cooled reactors and molten salt nuclear technology. While the technology is potentially feasible, there remains the need to negotiate to gain passage through several channels and ports internationally.
The history of nuclear ship propulsion dates back to the mid-1950’s when the United States developed the submarine Nautilus. By late 1959, the Soviet Union answered the nuclear propulsion challenge with the launching of the icebreaker Lenin. Since that time, all nuclear-powered maritime vessels have been directly or indirectly connected to a national military or navy. Recent advances in nuclear technology offers possibility for commercial propulsive application.
Environmental concerns about maritime sector greenhouse gas emissions have prompted research and development into a multitude of alternative fuels and ship propulsion technologies. While alternative fuels such as LPG and methanol fuels sustain the operation of internal combustion engines, other fuels such as hydrogen and reprocessed ammonia sustain operation of fuel cells that produce electricity. Some versions of new generation small-scale nuclear power resolve the problem of cooling reactors with high-pressure water or high-pressure helium gas. Widespread acceptance of nuclear powered commercial ships depends on assuring populations of the greater safety of contemporary nuclear technology.