Russia's Floating Nuclear Power Plant Has Hit the Sea

Illustration for article titled Russias Floating Nuclear Power Plant Has Hit the Sea
Photo: AP

Russia launched the world’s first floating nuclear power plant on Saturday. The 70-megawatt vessel, christened the Akademik Lomonosov, was towed away from St. Petersburg by two boats. It is currently coasting through the Baltic Sea to the town of Murmansk for fuel, and is then supposed to embark for the Arctic town of Pevek in 2019, according to a release from the state-run firm that built the rig.

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Greenpeace has referred to the vessel as “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic” bound for catastrophe. The environmental activist group’s nuclear expert Jan Haverkamp says one of the major concerns with the power plant is that it has a flat-bottomed hull—so that it can get close to the shoreline—and it has no self-propulsion, making it more vulnerable to storms.

Greenpeace ran a petition campaign that stopped Russia’s original plan to stock the power plant’s nuclear reactor in St. Petersberg, then send it straight to Pevek. The company that built the vessel, the Rosatom Corporation, decided to instead make an extensive pit stop in Murmansk, so that all the nuclear-related activity will take place in the Arctic, in less populated areas.

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But that has done little to assuage the fears of Greenpeace. “Nuclear reactors bobbing around the Arctic Ocean will pose a shockingly obvious threat to a fragile environment which is already under enormous pressure from climate change,” Haverkamp said in a release.

Once the vessel gets to Pevek, it is intended to help power the port town, replacing the 44-year-old Bilibino power plant and the 70-year-old Chaunskaya Thermal Power Plant, according to the release from Rosatom.

Other countries have floated the idea of a natant nuclear plant—namely China and the US.

Construction on the floating power plant first began in 2007, but hit many snags along the way. Rosatom plans to begin building a second floating power plant next year.

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[Ars Technica]

Former senior reporter at Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

The idea seems sound. The US and Russia have both fielded naval reactors since the 50s, so it’s not like this is really new.

What I question is the workmanship. Some rust on a barge isn’t exactly uncommon, but if I was building a reactor on one, I’d go ahead and clean it up. The lack of concern for aesthetics to any degree seems like a red flag. I’ve been onsite at a number of commercial reactors over the years, and the ones who don’t take housekeeping as seriously are almost always the ones that seem to have more technical and regulatory issues to deal with too. Can’t imagine that’s any different in Russia.