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Chernobyl on ice: Russia's floating nuclear power plant

  • Published at 03:32 pm August 26th, 2019
Russia-Floating Nuclear power plant-Akademik Lomonosov
Russia's floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov leaves the service base of Rosatomflot company for a journey along the Northern Sea Route to Chukotka from Murmansk, Russia August 23, 2019 Reuters

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy company, hopes to change that and sell customized floating nuclear power stations to countries around the world

Russia is planning to dispatch the Akademik Lomonosov, its first floating nuclear power station, on a 4,000-mile journey along the Northern Sea route.

The power station will be towed to the Arctic port of Pevek sometime in August, where its twin nuclear reactors will provide heat and energy to homes, and support mining and drilling operations in Russia's mineral-rich Chukutko region.

Russia claims the project will provide clean energy to the remote region and allow authorities to retire an ageing nuclear plant and a coal-burning power station, reports The Guardian.

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy company, hopes to change that and sell customized floating nuclear power stations to countries around the world.

However, the floating station has raised safety concerns among environmental groups, who also doubt whether the power plant would be economically viable.

Greenpeace has described the project as a “nuclear Titanic” and “Chernobyl on ice”, at a time when popular attention to the threat of nuclear accidents has been stoked by the popular HBO miniseries Chernobyl, dramatizing the nuclear disaster of 1986. Neighbouring countries including Norway have successfully lobbied to not load nuclear fuel on to the platform until after it is towed away from their borders.

But Vladimir Irminku, one of the chief engineers of the Akademik Lomonosov, said: “This and a ‘Chernobyl on ice’ is just night and day – we’re talking about totally different systems. There should always be skepticism [of new technology], but they’re going overboard with it. If they say there is a possibility of an accident with the reactor, then they have to present evidence.”

In case of an accident and a reactor shutdown, Irminku said, the ice-cold water beneath the reactor could be used as coolant until help arrived.

Dmitry Alekseyenko, a deputy head of construction and operation of the platform, said: “We studied the experience of Fukushima closely. [What happens] if the platform is hit by a tsunami? Or thrown onshore? According to our tests, a tsunami caused by a nine-point [earthquake] will not dislocate it from its base.”

Anna Kireeva, of Bellona Foundation which covers environmental issues in the Arctic region, said the organization had closely followed the development of the Akademik Lomonosov. Russian experts may safely be able to operate a floating nuclear power plant, she said, but plans to license out the technology raised much larger concerns.

Rosatom officials declined to say how much the Akademik Lomonosov cost, although they did say they expected prices to fall as further plants were built. In 2016, an official connected to the project said the floating nuclear power station cost an estimated around $336m, and the necessary infrastructure would cost an additional 7bn roubles.