Russia eyes to change Arctic
World’s First Floating Nuclear Reactor
MOSCOW, Aug 23: Russia will launch the world's first floating nuclear reactor and send it on an epic journey across the Arctic on Friday, despite environmentalists warning of serious risks to the region.
Loaded with nuclear fuel, the Akademik Lomonosov will leave the Arctic port of Murmansk to begin its 5,000 kilometre (3,000-mile) voyage to northeastern Siberia. Nuclear agency Rosatom says the reactor is a simpler alternative to building a conventional plant on ground that is frozen all year round, and it intends to sell such reactors abroad.
But environmental groups have long warned of the dangers of the project, dubbing it a potential "Chernobyl on ice" and a "nuclear Titanic." A deadly explosion this month at a military testing site in Russia's far north, causing a radioactive surge, has prompted further concerns.
The reactor's trip is expected to last between four and six weeks, depending on the weather conditions and the amount of ice on the way. Work began on the 144-metre (472-foot) Akademik Lomonosov in Saint Petersburg in 2006.
When it arrives in Pevek, a town of 5,000 in the Siberian region of Chukotka, it will replace a local nuclear plant and a closed coal plant. It is due to go into operation by the end of year, mainly serving the region's oil platforms as Russia develops the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic.
The 472 foot long platform, equipped with two KLT-40 nuclear reactors, can produce up to 70 megawatts (MW) of electricity and 50 Gcal/h of thermal power. That's enough to supply energy to 100,000 inhabitants - equal to around seven percent of what a large commercial reactor in the U.S. typically produces.
Its keenly-awaited launch this week comes amid an international scramble for new territory, the likes of which the world hasn't witnessed since the 18th century. The Akademik Lomonosov is, in fact, part of Russia's broader strategy of taking advantage of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic. It wants to position itself as the 'gatekeeper' for the expected explosion of shipping routes through the rapidly expanding waterway on its northern border with the Arctic Ocean.
With a minimum 40-year life cycle, the Akademik Lomonosov - named after 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov - was commissioned by Rosenergoatom (a division of Rosatom) and designed by Russian atomic scientists and naval architects. It features cutting edge safety and security systems and, if successful, will represent another milestone in Moscow's efforts to tame the melting Northern Sea Route. -AFP