Russian floating nuclear plant set for the eastern end of the Northern Sea Route.(photo courtesy of Rosatom). Russian floating nuclear plant set for the eastern end of the Northern Sea Route.(photo courtesy of Rosatom).

Representing both a breakthrough for mobile nuclear technology and a landmark technical achievement by the Russian shipbuilding industry, the floating nuclear plant Akademik Lomonosov has departed Murmansk under tow for a remote Arctic port in the Chukotka region, writes David Tinsley.

Constructed by Baltiyskiy Zavod for operation by Rosenergoatom, part of the state nuclear enterprise Rosatom, the floating nuclear power station will be based at Pevek, on the easternmost section of the Northern Sea Route. The 4,700km voyage from Murmansk along Russia’s Arctic seaway began towards the end of August. On arrival at Pevek, the unit will replace local nuclear and also coal-based power generating capacity.

With main dimensions of about 145m x 30m, and drawing 5.6m, the Akademik Lomonosov is a non self-propelled nuclear power station barge of some 21,500t displacement, equipped with two nuclear reactors of a modified type used in marine propulsion. The floating plant will connect into the region’s grid, providing up to 70MW of electricity or district heating, and will come to form a central element of Chukotka’s energy supply infrastructure.

As well as serving Russian objectives regarding the development of its Far Eastern regions and also the Northern Sea Route, the Rosatom floating nuclear power plant technology is seen as offering opportunities in the export market. It is especially suited to very remote areas and island states that require stable, non-polluting sources of energy. Rosatom said that interest in the concept had already come from the Middle East, North Africa, and South East Asia.

According to Rosatom, up to 40% of the cost of fossil fuel-based electricity generation is attributable to the price of coal, oil or gas and its transportation. The figure increases with shipments to difficult or especially remote locations. The physically small nuclear reactors of the type employed in the Akademik Lomonosov can operate non-stop without the need for refuelling for at least three years, reducing the cost and dependability of electricity generation.

The project has been long in the making, and constitutes a bold scheme to strengthen the wellbeing of Russia’s economically-important Arctic seaboard. The designers and authorities refute claims by environmental groups that floating nuclear plants present greater risks by being more vulnerable to accidents and other events. Criticism from environmentalists has taken on an extra edge due to a recent blast at a military site near Murmansk which reportedly led to a spike in local radiation levels.

Shipbuilding contractor Baltiyskiy Zavod at St Petersburg is well-versed in the production of ice-class vessels with diesel-electric and nuclear propulsion, naval ships, and power engineering and machine building equipment. State-owned through United Shipbuilding Corporation, the yard has three 60MW, nuclear-powered icebreakers of the LK-60 series on order, due for respective handovers in 2020, 2021 and 2022. It is expected to formalise contracts soon for fourth and fifth newbuilds of the 173m-long design.

To be deployed by Rosatom, the new generation will escort ships in the Arctic, breaking through ice up to 3m thick. The dual-draught capability allows operation both in the Arctic expanse and in the estuaries of polar rivers.


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