'Enormous potential for nuclear power in shipping': your letters to Professional Engineering

Professional Engineering

A nuclear icebreaker in the Arctic (Credit: Shutterstock)
A nuclear icebreaker in the Arctic (Credit: Shutterstock)

Switch to nuclear power at sea

"When, in 1981, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a code of safety for nuclear merchant ships it noted “the progress in nuclear engineering, the experience gained by a number of countries in operating ships with nuclear propulsion and the expected increase in the use of nuclear propulsion in merchant ships” in justification of its action. The subsequent emphasis on highly efficient diesel engines meant that this expected increase did not materialise.

"More recently, in response to the looming climate-change emergency, IMO’s strategy for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from shipping has been set to achieve at least a 50% reduction by 2050. This is a fairly modest aim compared with that of the Paris agreement’s target for countries of zero carbon emission by 2050, but even 50% for shipping is virtually unreachable without a radical shift in propulsion technology. Biofuel, hydrogen, batteries and renewable energy will be no substitute for the present dependency on fossil fuel which produces globally some 2% of greenhouse gas emissions (comparable with that of a country the size of the UK).

"To reach IMO’s target, shouldn’t thought again be urgently turning to building nuclear-powered ships? The UK is no longer a great shipbuilding nation, but it has mastered nuclear propulsion technology in powering its submarine fleet. Furthermore, Rolls-Royce is developing small nuclear power plants to meet future distributed electricity needs. We have the expertise! 

"The potential here for UK industry to benefit from a switch to nuclear power in merchant shipping is enormous. The logic for doing so is extremely strong – though not without its problems in implementation."

Jon Wonham, Stroud, Gloucestershire


Let’s develop a small, safe car

"Manufacturing should play a key role in economic regeneration post-Covid. The evidence so far is that the UK’s recovery will lag behind other European countries due to its dependence on business and leisure industries. 

"One thing we should learn from the pandemic is that economies should be more self-sufficient. We must encourage home-grown manufacturing industries and make a concerted effort to educate and train the workforce, not only at graduate level but also at technician level.

"An example of where investment is needed is the car industry. There is an opportunity to manufacture a light, economical small car, electric or petrol. Since the first Mini was produced cars have got bigger and bigger. The Mini is now anything but mini and there is no similar vehicle currently on the market. Even Smart cars have grown. 

"We have seen during the lockdown how air quality improved as well as how the health of city dwellers has been compromised by pollution. The popularity of large, heavy cars is a contributory factor. Their production in terms of material is wasteful, fuel consumption is high and we are finding that the particulates from tyre friction is a major pollutant.

"It would be a real challenge for engineers and designers to develop a small, safe car for example of 500kg total weight, 500cc petrol engine (or equivalent electric motor) with a 50mph speed limit. The use of this car could be encouraged by financial incentives or an incremental tax on larger, heavier vehicles. This concept can be applied to public transport. This is an opportunity before China corners the market."

Dr Darius Sepahy, Hertfordshire


Image making at the top

"There have been many letters and articles about the casual use of the term ‘’engineer’’ but never any realistic proposal to enhance its public image. 

"My proposal is to change the title of the government’s appointed position of Chief Scientific Officer to Chief Scientific and Engineering Officer. Justification for this can be made when it is realised that professional engineers of all disciplines are required to design, construct, commission and maintain the equipment used by scientists in their research and development projects.

"It is recommended that the IMechE along with other engineering institutions should lobby the government along these lines."

Jonathan Eadon-Smith, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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