Earth to CNN: No, a nuclear-powered superyacht won’t save the world

By Dawn Stover | September 28, 2021

Design for a 300-meter-long superyachtDesign for 300-meter-long superyacht has a 13-level "science city" sphere, a cantilevered observation deck, and a connecting hull. Credit: Earth 300 image via CNN

Who knew that a sexy nuclear superyacht could save us from climate catastrophe? That was the awesome news from CNN’s travel desk yesterday.

CNN wasn’t alone. Forbes, BBC Science Focus Magazine, and a host of other media outlets have previously hailed the world-rescuing potential of what CNN described as “an emissions-free megaship that will pit together climate scientists and the wealthy in a daring quest to save the planet.”

“Pit together” sounds like an apt description of a would-be merger between luxury tourism and climate action. You can put those two things together in a sentence, but in the real world they mix about as easily as oil and water.

And there’s another big problem with the plan for this overhyped 300-meter-long vessel and its global research: Earth 300, as the $700 million superyacht is called, will be powered by a molten salt nuclear reactor that doesn’t exist yet and won’t be certified for at least five years. The company’s website illustrates the reactor with a scale model of an experiment done in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The website also says the scientists onboard Earth 300 will have the world’s first ocean-going quantum computer. But that, too, has yet to be built.

Meanwhile, the climate crisis needs immediate attention. “We really are out of time,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned this month.

While they wait for a modular nuclear reactor that might never come, the developers of Earth 300 say they will use green synthetic fuels. These are liquid fuels derived from coal or natural gas in a process that captures carbon. However, they are much more expensive than fossil fuels. Aaron Olivera, the entrepreneur behind Earth 300, told CNN he plans to “eventually” retrofit the yacht with a reactor being developed by the UK company Core Power in collaboration with TerraPower, a US nuclear engineering firm chaired by Bill Gates.

Globally, there are at least 171 motorized megayachts that are 75 meters (246 feet) or more in length. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, is rumored to be buying a superyacht so big that it will have a dock for its own “support yacht.” Eclipse, an even bigger superyacht owned by Russian-Israeli billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich, has its own missile defense system. The largest yacht currently operating, Azzam, is 180 meters (590 feet) long and consumes 13 metric tons of fuel per hour at its top speed of 33 knots. That’s about 0.01 miles (or a little over 50 feet) per gallon.

Earth 300 would be much bigger.

And the customers Olivera would like to attract—the wealthiest people in the world—also tend to have the world’s largest carbon footprints, thanks in no small part to their habit of traveling aboard superyachts and private airplanes. According to calculations by two researchers at Indiana University, a superyacht with a permanent crew and helicopter pad is “by far the worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint.”

Earth 300’s luxury suites will each rent for $300,000 a day, which presumably will cover the personnel and expenses needed to operate the ship and its 22 scientific laboratories. But construction won’t begin until 2025 at the earliest, and any groundbreaking scientific discoveries or billionaire epiphanies that could help stabilize the climate are even further into the future.

Construction is already delayed on another 600-foot-long yacht that will combine climate research with charters for paying customers. Financed by Kjell Inge Røkke, a Norwegian billionaire who made his fortune in fishing and oil drilling, REV Ocean will investigate climate change and ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and overfishing, but the nonprofit project is at least three years behind schedule.

Who will be aboard these superyachts? CNN asked Olivera which famous people he’d like to host on his future ship, and he named Elon Musk, Michelle Obama, Greta Thunberg, Naomi Klein and Yvon Chouinard. Like the superyacht itself, some of those potential guests seem more aspirational than realistic.

Greta Thunberg doesn’t take airplanes or motor yachts. Elon Musk doesn’t take vacations. And Bill Gates may be hurt that he’s not on the A-list.


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2 years ago

An absurd idea, the money much better spent on more prosaic but proven solutions like promoting regen Agriculture.
If they start to ask for shares, we know it is something else …
PS Don’t knock LFTRs.

Mark Lehnhoff
Mark Lehnhoff
2 years ago

think “Snowpiercer”!

(But rather than a train running on and on thru a frozen wasteland, we get yachts sailing on and on upon oceans of warmed-up water.)

Last edited 2 years ago by Mark Lehnhoff
Neil Ruedlinger
Neil Ruedlinger
2 years ago

I think the true purpose of such a super yacht is as a literal show boat for promoting the so-called ‘green’ liquid biofuel(s). For such a project to be taken seriously, its entire construction should not consume any drop, gram or Pascal of any carbon based fuel. The recycling, mining, smelting, casting, any materials processing, transportation of raw materials and components, then systems integration, final assembly and super yacht launching should be done with completely renewable energy sources. Initially the propulsion system should be powered with Perovskite Solar Cell based Photo-Voltaic panels and Icelandic design wind power generators with high… Read more »

Last edited 2 years ago by Neil Ruedlinger
Neil Ruedlinger
Neil Ruedlinger
2 years ago

As a follow up to my previous comment (which I couldn’t add because my editing time window expired) was: One prominent type of salt under investigation (also potentially for use in LFTR) is FLiBe, which was the subject of a March 1999 research paper by Lockeed Martin sponsored researchers L. C. Cadwallader and G. R. Longhurst as a potential plasma facing coolant for Thermonuclear Fusion Reactors. This paper explores to a good level of detail, the Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety issues to be addressed when working with FLiBe salt. This is one area of investigation that may benefit… Read more »

Eric k gautreaux
Eric k gautreaux
2 years ago

We have carbon free ships. They are powered by sail.