Samsung Heavy to partner with KAREI to develop molten-salt reactor floating power plants and nuclear-powered ships


Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) is making a full-scale effort to develop offshore nuclear power plant technology. SHI has signed a Molten-Salt Reactor (MSR) development and joint research agreement with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), Korea’s only comprehensive nuclear research and development institute.

Through this agreement, SHI plans to pioneer the MSR-based floating nuclear power plant and nuclear-powered ship market as part of strengthening its capacity for future new business expansion.

The agreement includes joint research plans for MSR element technology and related equipment development, such as heat exchangers, offshore nuclear product design and business model development, performance verification, and economic evaluation.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), MSRs operate on the same basic principle as current nuclear power reactors—controlled fission to produce steam that powers electricity-generating turbines. However, in the MSR, molten salts play a key role in the reactor core, including as a coolant instead of water as used by most currently operating reactors. Instead of fuel rods, most MSR designs involve nuclear fuel dissolved in the coolant.

The MSR concept is not new; Oak Ridge National Laboratory operated an experimental 7.34 MWth MSR from 1965 to 1969 in the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE). This demonstrated the feasibility of liquid-fueled reactors cooled by molten salts and helped identify and later resolve issues such as the need for liquid-liquid chemical extraction methods for molten salt fuel processing.

While work on MSRs has continued in several countries over the last few decades, commercial deployments have remained out of reach, IAEA notes. This has been due to a range of issues including regulatory challenges such as the lack of MSR licensing standards as well as supply chain difficulties in sourcing specialized components.

Now, several MSR designs are nearing deployment readiness in various countries, including the US and Canada as well as thorium-based MSRs in China.

SHI noted that the use cycle of the nuclear fuel is more than 20 years—the same as the life cycle of a ship—so there would be no need to replace it after being installed.

In addition, SHI said, if an abnormal signal occurs inside the reactor, it is designed to solidify the molten salt—the liquid nuclear fuel—to prevent serious accidents at the source.

MSR is a carbon-free energy source that can efficiently respond to climate change issues and is a next-generation technology that meets the vision of Samsung Heavy Industries. We plan to focus on R&D to become a new future growth engine.

—Jintaek Jeong, president of Samsung Heavy Industries

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