ABS President Foresees Trend Toward Nuclear Merchant Ships By 1990

N u c l e a r - p o w e r e d merchant ships will sail the oceans by 1990, says Robert T. Young, chairman and president of the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).

Addressing a meeting of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association in Hong Kong, Mr. Young said that "the operating record of the nuclear merchant ships Savannah and Otto Hahn, together with the more than 200 nuclear naval vessels, clearly indicates that the technology exists today to provide sound and reliable nuclear-powered commercial vessels." The U.S.-flag Savannah, built to ABS classification, operated from 1962 to 1970; the West German-flag Otto Hahn entered service in 1968 and is still active.

These vessels, Mr. Young said, "have enabled the shipbuilding industry to gain considerable technical knowledge and experience.

This expertise could be readily applied to building nuclearpowered merchant ships." The ABS chairman cited three major problems that have hindered the advent of commercial nuclear ships: questions concerning economic justification, indemnification and liability in case of damages, and port entry and international clearance. He noted a paradox in commercial nuclear ship development: "On the one hand the real benefits can be known, and the problems be resolved, only after the first few nuclear-powered commercial vessels are put into service; but, on the other hand, no owner is going to build a nuclear vessel and place it in service until the benefits are fairly well known and the associated problems are for the most part resolved.

"There are sizable odds against the future of nuclear-powered merchant ships," he said, "but I would not bet against it. Perhaps they will not be in service by the early 1980s, but it is my feeling that we will see nuclear-powered merchant ships sailing the oceans by the end of the next decade." In one effort to resolve the problems, Mr. Young reported, governments and private agencies, individually and jointly, are developing proposals regarding nuclear liability, insurance, and standards for design and safety.

The Brussels Convention on Liability of Operators of Nuclear Ships, which awaits ratification, would limit owner liability for accidents to about $500 million.

Signatory states would license nuclear ships of their flag and provide indemnification to that limit, "Ratification of the Brussels Convention would be a great boost to the development of nuclear- powered merchant ships," Mr. Young maintained.

Requirements for the design safety, and operation of nuclear vessels are being developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is working with the Inter- Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, assisted by the International Association of Classification Societies, of which the American Bureau of Shipping is a charter member.

Mr. Young said he believed that the work being devoted to the establishment of standards for design and safety "will meet with success within a few years." He added that ABS is presently updating its "Guide for the Classification of Nuclear Vessels," which was first published in 1962.

Mr. Young said that the consensus of the maritime industry is that the best candidates for nuclear propulsion are the highspeed and high-powered vessels such as containerships, very large crude carriers, and liquefied natural gas carriers. Also, he added, there are other conceivable applications where conventional power is effectively ruled out, such as Arctic icebreaker tankers.

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