Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation, has launched a vessel it claims is the world’s only floating nuclear power unit.
The Akademik Lomonosov is now being towed out of St. Petersburg — where it was constructed over the past nine years — to its base in Chukotka in the country’s remote far east. It will transit across the Arctic via Murmansk so that its reactors can be loaded with nuclear fuel before they are started this autumn.
According to a statement from Rosatom, the 70MW Akademik Lomonosov will replace the 44-year old Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant and the 70-year old Chaunskaya Thermal Power Plant. It will begin operation at its home port in 2019 and will generate enough energy to power a town of 100,000 people.
“The floating power unit is designed for operation at the areas of the extreme north and the Russian Far East,” the statement says. “Its main task is to provide the remote industrial plants, port cities, as well as the offshore gas and oil platforms with electric energy.”
Critics have voiced concerns that an accident or meltdown in the unit’s reactors could create an environmental catastrophe akin to “Chernobyl on ice”.
“This power plant basically moves the threat of a nuclear catastrophe into fragile Arctic waters,” says Jan Haverkamp, a nuclear expert for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe. “With its flat-bottomed hull and lack of self-propulsion it’s like balancing a nuclear power plant on a wooden palette and setting it adrift in some of the world’s roughest waters.”
Rosatom claims that the nuclear process at the floating power station “meet all requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency and do not pose any threat to the environment”.
Melting ice in the Arctic has allowed developers to access oil and gas resources that were previously too difficult to exploit. Russia is also working to transform the once-frozen Arctic Northern Sea Route into an active shipping lane.