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MSC 108 can draw on comprehensive review of the IMO's nuclear ship regulations

16 Apr 2024

The Safety Framework involving these novel fuels and technologies is a new item on the MSC agenda, and seeks to guarantee that, as shipping investigates its choices, the IMO's GHG reduction targets may be met safely. An information document, MSC 108/INF.21, is one of the documents that has been submitted to MSC 108. It emphasises that the Nuclear Code, which was adopted as Resolution A.491 in 1981 and is specific to early pressurised water reactor (PWR) designs, needs to be updated to take advantage of advancements in technology.

It is time for the 1981-adopted regulatory framework for nuclear-powered merchant ships to be updated in order to realise the potential of deploying a new generation of safe, effective, and emission-free commercial ships.

A team of experts from the World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI) performed a thorough gap analysis of the Nuclear Code, which forms the bulk of information document MSC 108/INF.21.

The gap analysis shows how the Nuclear Code might be updated to adopt the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) non-prescriptive, technology-neutral approach to nuclear safety standards.

The international framework for the design, building, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of merchant ships propelled by nuclear energy was established by the Nuclear Code. The Nuclear Code (part of SOLAS Chapter VIII) has not been widely applied since its adoption in 1981. Its prescriptive approach only addresses a single type of nuclear reactor.

The gap analysis highlights technological advancements in the design of a new generation of advanced reactor technologies and the development of all-electric ship concepts that have created the potential for the successful application of various technologies to ships. It also recommends that the Nuclear Code be technology-neutral to accommodate emerging technologies, utilising a goal-setting approach to safety requirements.

It is envisaged the gap analysis can be the basis for how to update the Nuclear Code to make it more appropriate for new reactor technologies and a new generation of truly zero-emission floating power assets and ships.

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