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Would a switch to that 'unforgiving energy', nuclear power, solve our fuel problem to ecologists' satisfaction?

Until Russia invaded the Ukraine in February 2022, it had been the Port of Hamburg's fourth largest trading partner, but slipped into 27th place thereafter.

Blessed with a mild winter Europe did not suffer nearly as much as many feared because of its long-standing dependence on Russian oil and gas, the flow of which was cut off by the conflict bureaucratically even before it was physically truncated by the sabotage of the underwater Nord Stream pipeline.

Ironically, a positive aspect of these developments is that a sense of reality has befallen the Germans, the EU's most powerful member state, making it clear to even the most strident environmentalists that sustainability policies enforced worldwide are themselves unsustainable.

Highly subsidised wind, wave and solar power, even at the best of times do not begin to match the output of coal-fired electricity generating plants that have been re-commissioned to fill the power gap.

Despite a partisan media blackout of coverage of such developments, a multiplicity of disorganised blogs on social media have spread the news far and wide to reach all but the most doctrinaire environmentalists.

It is increasingly apparent, even to them, that the only truly sustainable route is that unholiest of sources, the unforgiving energy of nuclear power.

In unwitting support of claims that environmentalism is not science but religion, the theology department of the University of Helsinki has awarded Greta Thunberg an honourary doctorate.

If nothing else, such developments illustrate how thin the ice is upon which claims of catastrophic climate change predictions rest.

Which is more relevant to the Port of Hamburg, being the foundation of German prosperity, and to a large extent Europe's too. Thus, it seems wise to pay lip service to any eco commitments one has made, and rely on sound business principles to navigate through what many expect to be hard times, not to mention a severe winter ahead.

Thus, the debate begins. Standing against nuclear transition are safety concerns. Accidents, such as the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, have raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants. Despite technological advancements, says Bernard Ponsard, head of radioisotopes at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, the risk of catastrophic accidents, albeit small, still poses a threat to public safety and the environment.

Constructing nuclear power plants involves enormous initial capital investments, costs often exceed those required for fossil fuel-based power plants or renewable energy installations. Additionally, decommissioning nuclear facilities and managing nuclear waste impose additional financial burdens.

One of the major concerns against nuclear power is the long-term storage and management of radioactive waste. Currently, no universally accepted solution exists for the permanent disposal of this waste, posing environmental and health risks for future generations.

On the other hand, advocates argue that the widespread transition to nuclear power ensures energy security while meeting the growing global energy demand and satisfying demands to eliminate greenhouse gases. But opponents point to safety concerns, high upfront costs, and unresolved waste disposal issues.

Yet barring accidents, nuclear power is an environmentally friendly energy source that produces almost no direct carbon emissions. This attribute is especially valuable in the face of fears of global warming, raising concerns about the significant role of fossil fuels in exacerbating climate concerns, says engineering professor Charikleia Karakosta of National Technical University of Athens, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Agreeing, Dr Tyler J Bradshaw, of the Department of Radiology at the University of Wisconsin, cites the advantages of nuclear power's high energy density. Compared to renewable energy like wind or solar, nuclear power is a high power source, resulting in a small physical footprint to generate significant amounts of electricity. This advantage enables nuclear plants to produce large amounts of energy consistently, making them particularly suitable for meeting the growing energy demand.

Professor Carlo Lombardi has been the initiator and leader of the Nuclear Reactors Group lobby, says nuclear power has the potential to provide a substantial and consistent supply of electricity to power communities, industries, and even entire countries. This dependability ensures energy security, reducing reliance on imported energy sources and protecting against price volatility.

Nuclear power has emerged as a prominent alternative energy source, polarising experts and policymakers concerning its potential to address the world's growing energy demands while minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

Arguments in favour of nuclear power emphasise its low carbon footprint, high energy density, and potential for substantial electricity generation. Conversely, arguments against nuclear power focus on safety and security concerns, high upfront costs, and the unresolved issues of waste disposal.

While the maritime application of nuclear power is anything but new, it has made little progress through the bureaucratic ice floes since the commissioning of the Nuclear Ship Savannah, a bulk carrier launched in 1959 under the Atoms for Peace Programme. After a decade of indifferent service, it was decommissioned in 1972 after a mixed career as a showboat, falling far from its promise as the progenitor of nuclear commercial shipping.

Always the bureaucratic ice-breaker, the military can do what it likes. Thus, nuclear reactors have been cleanly propelling naval vessels for more than 60 years and interest is growing in using new reactor technologies to dramatically scale back the maritime industry s carbon footprint and lower operating costs.

Nuclear reactors could allow ships to run longer and on less fuel. Existing nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers use highly enriched uranium and light-water reactor systems to run for 30 years or more without refueling.

Offshore applications could include reactors for floating data centers, water desalination plants, or power stations similar to this design concept by NuScale Power and Prodigy Clean Energy. The floating small modular reactor would be fully built in a shipyard factory and exported to other countries for access to clean electricity and a heat supply.

Reactors can also be used to power a variety of vessels ranging from containerships and passenger vessels to icebreakers like the ones currently in operation in Russia.

There appear to be opportunities there, but no one as yet seems willing to take them. Perhaps the regulatory hoops are too many to contemplate.

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What are your feelings about nuclear powers ashore and afloat? Are the likely payoffs worth taking the risks, or is it best to leave well enough alone?

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China Trade Specialists