106: A Pile of Shipping – Nuclear Powered Ships

Matt and Sean talk about the concerns, costs and advantages to nuclear powered shipping.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, Can Nuclear Powered Ships Clean Up Shipping? : https://youtu.be/rTGL6TAvwcU?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7UWp64ZlOKUPNXePMTdU4d

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Hey, everybody on today’s episode of still to be determined. We’re going to talk about nuclear powered shipping. Can this be a solution to cleaner shipping before we get into that I’m Sean Ferrell I’m Matt Ferrell’s older brother I’m a writer I’ll be asking him the questions and of course you’re familiar with Matt from his Youtube channel. Undecided with Matt Farrell. Matt how you doing I’m okay, we had a bit of rain for the past few days which made me live like a hermit and then I realized I was living like a hermit and tried to step outside.
I’m good how you doing.
And was much like our early ancestors who looked at this orb in the sky called the sun and decided me no like and went back inside So that’s where I’ve been how about yourself.
It’s basically the same thing we’ve had freezing rent So stepping outside I didn’t want to fall down so I just went right back inside I’ve been living like a hermit. Yeah.
So today we’ll be talking about Matt’s most recent episode which was titled can nuclear powered ships cleanup shipping this episode aired on February First twenty twenty two there were many comments on the video.
Question mark.
And just a reminder to everybody listening please do drop a comment below this video or in the contact information you can find the contact information in the podcast description and you can leave comments there as well wanted to share a comment from our last video. In which we discussed microgrids based on homeowners with battery systems and there was this comment from Alan Tupper that mirrored some of what Matt and I had been saying about ways to entice communities to actually start building out these grids Alan Tupper wrote on getting the battery systems out in a roughly even spread. Wonder if a lottery giveaway system broken down by zip code would work each zip code could get 1 winner who would receive a free installation I think that that’s an interesting concept to start building out and spreading out the kind of micro-grid that we were talking about last week
Yeah, and you know the utilities could afford it.
That’s right as for the most recent videos about nuclear powered shipping. There were lots of responses which included a idea that I thought was like a piggyback idea. To the concept of a nuclear powered ship pulling into a port this one from Donald Hodeck who wrote one added advantage to help recoup the initial cost of building a nuclear powered ship would be that when it’s idle loading or unloading at a dock the ship’s nuclear power system could be connected to the local power grid. Help with the generation of electrical power for the port city. Granted there would have to be major oversight that would ensure the systems and system maintenance are performed as scheduled as in the airline industry I think that that was an interesting concept of kind of like mobile batteries pulling into a port and even if it wasn’t citywide. Just. Portwide just if your visiting ships are helping power your local port needs that would potentially cut down on costs for the port and help benefit the region as a whole.
Yeah I mean that’s very similar to ah what’s a vehicle-to-grid and vehicle to home technology where you can plug your ev into your house and not only can you charge it but you can do the reverse like the new Ford f 105 electric truck can do this where you have a power outage you plug your truck into your house and you get power. Ah, you could use it as a storage system so that you could sell that energy back to the grid if they need it too. So it’s like it makes perfect sense where it’s not moving the ship but you could earn some little extra money for the shipping company or the owner of the boat to sell some of that energy off to the grid or the local port or whatever it is. It’s like that’s pretty smart.
Yeah I also as I was watching the video. It was interesting because the video took the the lens of logistically how could this be done historically what is the history of this technology. Looking toward the future. How might this technology be plugged in and I understand that that’s that’s the window of your channel at large for all of these things but there was this comment that I think plugged into my concerns and thoughts around security and safety. This one is from Wolf Gar Openth throatat wolfgar writes I’m pretty pro-nuclear but there are a number of factors that leave me skeptical about the safety and shipping applications properly trained reactor techs and maintenance isn’t cheap and even if those costs are overshadowed by long-term savings shipping companies tend to be. Big uncutting corners to save money and cheaping out everywhere they can even when it is both ill-advised and at times explicitly illegal. There’s also hazards that ships face from breaking up in a storm at sea to accidents like collisions and harbors. Plenty of ships are lost each year the dangers of radiation are overblown. But. That is a lot of potential nuclear accidents every year you’re basically you’d basically need apocalypse-proof idiot-proof self-contained 0 maintenance reactors that can survive decades under the unsupervised mercies of all the words world’s undertrained, lowest possible wage mariners and the ships they’re being. And the ship they’re in being dashed against rocks and scattered along with strict regulations to ensure that reactor equipped ships have the reactor properly removed and decommissioned instead of being sold to a country with lax laws for the ship breaking. It’s not as bad as It’s not as bad, an idea as fission powered cars. But it’s got a lot of obstacles to overcome and half of them are rooted in human greed I I thought that wolfgar really painted a fairly accurate Dystopic vision. Of of the immediacy of these kinds of dangers that and I find myself thinking in terms of we recently just in the past year had the suez canal shut down by a ship that.
Wedged itself in there.
Wedged itself in there. What if there was a ship that did something as stupid as that ship. There are cases of the x n valdes. You had a ship that ran itself aground because of drinking on the part of the crew and. You think in terms of okay as he describes you would need to have nuclear engineers aboard these ships and they are out at sea for extended periods of time and then and the amount of lax behavior aboard those ships is notorious and then for me 1 step beyond this. Was what would prevent a country that wants to get a hold of a nuclear reactor from putting together effectively a boat full of armed pirates sending them out to capture one of these ships. What kind of security would you need in order to basically fight off high seas piracy. Would be looking for not just an opportunity to ransom off a crew which happens that’s what modern piracy largely looks like you come too close to a certain country a bunch of people come out in small boats and take over the boat and then ransom off the crew back to the company that owns the ship. But now they’d be ransomeming back potentially a nuclear reactor or potentially just taking that ship and handing it over to a country that wants the material itself. So lots of very um you know Harrison forward action thriller scenarios. Fun out of my head as I was watching your video which I understand that is not the focus of your channel but there is that interface to the world and I just wanted to get your thoughts like.
No yes, those. Those are concerns of mine. Those are absolute concerns of mine. Ah a couple of things nuclear ships that are currently in operation. A lot of history I went through most of them tend to be for Militaries. So Of course you’re going to have military budgets So you’re not going to have a shortage of.
Sure Nuclear engineers are on board that they’re properly being maintained and all that kind of stuff because it’s a military making sure their machines are properly run because it’s also the military that means there’s you got a military right? So they can defend themselves.
And piracy on the high seeds seas with a military operation is not going to yeah I understand that.
And at the same time. It’s because it’s just the military.. There’s fewer of them which means there’s fewer accidents so it could kind of give a false sense of security of well there really aren’t that many nuclear accidents on the seas at all when you look at the history. But it’s also because it’s a very small number of ships that have been doing this over the course of history so far. So as you ramp it up into shipping suddenly just because there are more of Them. You’re going to have more accidents and it is a concern but when it comes to like the concern around policies you can put regulations and policies in place and agreements around the world where if a company is not properly maintaining a ship that they could get in like deep trouble.
Um, yeah.
Like they would be. They would be responsible for any catastrophe that would happen and because of that even though these shipping companies are very you know want to cut corners. They’re also not going to want to put themselves in liability risks for that could bankrupt the company so they’re going to want to try to make sure things are probably maintained. There are ways that you could try to cajole certain companies into doing it and set things up so that it could be cost prohibitive if things go wrong so that they want to. They may not want to do it if they don’t think they can actually maintain it so I don’t think there’s a policy issue that couldn’t be figured out but the whole piracy thing is an interesting angle because. That is a problem we have today I don’t know what the answer is to that it is something that’s concerning but um, somebody did comment in that in the video’s comments about the the amount of radioactive material. That’s in a nuclear reactor for a ship is actually very It’s not super radioactive. It’s a so very small amount. It’s not um, like he even commented about 1 of the fuel pellets is actually the radioactive fuel level is so low. You can actually hold it in your hand and not be at risk. So. It’s like this is not. Something as something as dangerous as like a nuclear reactor like you’d have on land. It’s something much more low power. It is safer. But yeah, you don’t want that to get in the wrong hands anyway. So it’s like the question is how do you prevent that from happening I have no clue. It’s a concern.
Ah, yeah I think the regulations and policy angle is that’s an understandable track to take I question the efficiency of that or the efficacy of that simply because we know from within our own lifetimes.
The number of maritime accidents that have occurred and the companies that have been responsible for those accidents are perfectly fine exxon did not go out of business after the valdes released tens of thousands of barrels of oil.
Yes, true.
And they were directly responsible for it. There have been oil rigs that have failed and caught fire and released things and that.
Um, but there’s but there’s a difference. There’s a difference there in my mind because you’re talking about a government wanting to play a little fast and loose because they need that oil and they don’t want to bankrupt the company that’s giving them that oil. There’s a dependency there here. There’s not as much of a dependency you’re talking about shipping containers from China over to the United States
And might be a shipping company. It’s a totally different relationship and I could and because of the concerns around nuclear. There’s already incredibly strict regulations around it already around the world. You know that governments like the United States and the european union and China and every country in the world would put strict regulations around this. So. It’s not going to be like proliferating across shipping like rapid fire. It would probably be a very very slow controlled rollout. Um in very targeted use cases just because it is nuclear.
Um I think it’s interesting that this will be our episode of crossfire because I continue to think you wouldn’t have there will always be countries that will be willing to say like you want to be unregulated, go ahead and be unregulated and in fact, that was a comment from Shimazi head.
Yeah, yeah.
Shmuzzy head makes a very good point despite the fact that their username is schmuzzy head Shmuzzy head wrote 50% of ships are registered in countries like Panama Liberia and the marshall islands this is because it’s economical safety standards are less comprehensive which also saves money. It would be very easy for a ship to have an unregistered nuclear powered source and be flying a flag of a country that would say like all we’re looking for is a little bit of a kickback. We don’t need to regulate you and then that ship. Going in and out of ports without anybody in those host countries the United States China you mentioned all those countries that would be very concerned about these things I think that the the maritime laws are notoriously um, uneven and I think that there would be a lot of potential for. There to be safe ports safe harbors pun not intended but embraced.
but but I come back to again the nuclear proliferation thing in the united states there are companies that make nuclear reactors make these kind of things. The regulations of the laws prevent them from doing business with certain countries. So if that was the case. You could prevent them from selling nuclear powered nuclear reactors that are used in ships to those kind of countries where they might be registered. It’s like there are different things you could do to try to prevent that from happening. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would help to cut back on that. It’s like that’s why I keep leaning in there are ways you could do policies. And lean into the existing nuclear policies that try to prevent proliferation that can try to keep it somewhat under control. But it’s also you know Pindora’s box once it’s once it’s out there. It’s wow. Yeah.
Yeah, once these are out on the open seas. It would be. They’re out on the open seas in trying to compare some apples and oranges here you in this video compared the diesel operation to a potential nuclear. Powered ship. How do those match up with some of the other power sources that you talked about in other videos solar wind would it be if a company was looking in a 5 to 10 year window. Of having one of those alternative sources aboard a ship which one would they pick today and if you were to speculate in 50 years which one would probably be the one that they would pick in 50 years so Pandora’s box.
Pinders box. Yeah, if you’re just talking money. Ah I have a feeling nuclear is not going to catch on as a mainstream solution because because of these other options that are available. It’s.
Been put back on the shelf and now it’s the magic eight ball
You can easily retrofit existing ships to have the wind power sources that help to cut fuel use today. Um, that’s going to be readily available. It’s cheaper to implement. You’re going to start seeing savings right away existing infrastructure yada yada yada best path forward for. Companies. That’s probably where they’re going to go before they go to nuclear. Um, it’s similar to the case for why utilities want to build out wind turbine farms and solar farms over building a new nuclear power reactor because it’s more expensive to build a nuclear power reactor. The levelized cost of energy is a little higher so it’s like they’re going to go where it’s cheaper and. Even for nuclear powered ships. Even though it’s better than diesel over the life of the ship. It’s still not as good as just taking a diesel ship and retrofitting it or going to hybrid fuels that are like biofuels and stuff like that that are lower in co 2 combined with wind or solar. It’s like it’s There’s so many different paths you can take to get to a cheaper solution that produces less c o two. So it’s a win for the environment. It’s a win for the the pocketbook of the company and you don’t have to worry about the proliferation in the pindora’s box opening of oh my god nuclear. So.
Um, right.
I Do think it’s going to happen I think we’re going to see more and more of these ships showing up because it will make sense for certain use cases. Um, especially for ships that may have to go out to sea for months on end and they don’t have to worry about going to port to fuel up. Um, it’s going to make sense. But for I think for shipping container ships I think it’s going to be more likely we’ll see. Renewable energy sources biofuels and stuff like that being added in.
And the end result being an improvement of shipping even if nothing happens in shipping you point out in your video that are responsible for less than 3% of the overall greenhouse gas.
It’s pretty small.
Issue so putting to the side will we have a nuclear powered ship or a solar or a wind powered ship out on the high seas putting that to the side is any of the technology that you talked about you talked about it’s the molten Salt reactors. This is something that you’ve mentioned before people in your comments are pushing this as something for domestic use for power creation for cities where would the application. Be best used in order to have a bigger impact for greenhouse gas emissions.
It would be for land energy use. It would be like powering a city off a molten salt reactor is going to have a much bigger impact on the environment than making a nuclear ship. It’s just it’s diminishing returns when you start to go to that path. Um, I’m definitely in the mindset of we have to address all of it like wherever we’re Burning Fossil fuels we have to figure out solutions to get away from that for climate change. But if you want to just optimize things and get where the biggest bang for the buck is. It’s obviously cars trucks. You know transportation is the biggest one. Then generating clean energy for cities. It’s like that’s probably the next biggest one. So it’s like that’s where the bigger bring for the buck is going to come with molten salt reactors small modular reactors things like that. So if nuclear is still going to catch on there. It’s like there’s a lot of people that are pro-nuclear that like just go nuclear and it’s.
Yeah, but money is where I keep coming back to. It’s like I don’t disagree that Nuclear is a great base power source but it’s still very expensive considering other technologies that are out there.
It also has probably the worst Pr.
It’s Unjustified. It’s kind of like the same thing where people are afraid of flying but you’re more likely to die in a car accident than you are on a plane.. It’s the same thing for Nuclear. It’s like nuclear is actually very safe. It’s incredibly safe and when you look at the number of deaths caused by all the different energy sources. From like coal causing pollution causing. You know, lung disease and all that kind of stuff the number of deaths from coal oil all the way down to Nuclear Nuclear is one of the safest safest things that you can do obviously wind and solar are actually safer because nobody dies from a panel going bad So it’s.
It’s one of those. It’s It’s the but it’s down there right with them. It’s like it’s a very small number.
What yeah I could imagine that somewhere. There’s been a pilot who’s flying and the sun hits a solar panel at exactly the right angle hits him in the eyes. He’s like oh my God and then then that he goes down in a in a ball of fire and we can’t discount that that’s that’s a real.
Real danger out there. So let’s keep an eye out for that so listeners. What do you think about all of this would you support there being nuclear powered ships out on the high seas or do you see the security concerns as being paramount. Let us know in the comments. You can find the contact information in the podcast notes or on Youtube you can just scroll beneath our lovely faces where the 2 bald guys on screen right now and you can leave a comment there if you’d like to support the show. Please do consider reviewing us on Apple Google Spotify wherever you listen. And if you’d like to more directly support us. You can go to still tbd dot fm and you’ll see the become a supporter button there. You can throw a recorder at my head or you can just click the join button on Youtube and become a member there all that really does help the show. Thank you so much for listening everybody and we’ll talk to you next time.
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