by Will Davis
As we start 2020 I find myself thinking about the slew of articles and posts that I’m seeing about SMR’s – that is to say, Small Modular Reactors.  Many are written by knowledgeable people, many not so much – but in some places I’ve started to see some references to the pollution caused by heavy ocean shipping and whether or not we could use SMR’s to stop that by converting ships to nuclear power.  Well, let’s not rush into this – after all, all of the “consideration” phase was done once before and there was in fact ocean-going hardware.  So, keeping in mind that it’s the holiday season, I’d like to just offer up a quick look at what was considered and what was surprisingly found out to be true in regards to nuclear cargo or passenger ships in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I hope this is new for many of you!
The Beginning
Just like today, it was first thought in the 50’s that the most economical process to apply nuclear power to commercial shipping was to take existing, in-production or reproducible designs for ships and “drop in” a nuclear plant.  That was relatively easier then than it is now because there were still a very large number of steam powered ships; using a reactor to produce steam was sort of a switchover from heavy oil to atoms.
Many studies were done – by firms you’d know, such as General Electric, and some you might not suspect.  For example, I have here in my files a complete report for a gas cooled reactor installation that was put out by the Cleveland Diesel Engine Division of General Motors (they actually subcontracted the report but intended to launch into construction at GM if it were approved – probably after buying the contractor,

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