Russia’s tsunami-proof ‘nuclear Titanic’ takes to the open seas

1 May 20184.71k Views

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The ‘Akademik Lomonosov’, the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, leaves St Petersburg under tow. Image: Nicolai Gontar/Greenpeace

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Russia’s ambitious floating nuclear reactor has finally taken to the high seas, with some critics dubbing it the ‘nuclear Titanic’.

The meltdown of the Fukushima reactor off the east coast of Japan following a tsunami is etched into the memory of not only the people that lived there, but a world that fears the effects of future radiation leaks.

So, Russia’s decision to build and now launch a floating nuclear reactor barge called the Akademik Lomonosov from St Petersburg has raised eyebrows among the general public and wider scientific community. In fact, it has been dubbed the ‘nuclear Titanic’ by critics and others in the media.

According to ArsTechnica, the 700MW two-reactor plant will travel through the Baltic Sea and into the North Sea before looping around the coast of Norway and arriving at the northerly Russian town of Murmansk.

Once fuelled up with the necessary nuclear material, it will travel on again to the Arctic town of Pevek where it will power its 100,000-strong population as well as its desalination plant and nearby oil rigs.

Nuclear barge leaving St Petersburg

The ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ leaving St Petersburg. Image: Nicolai Gontar/Greenpeace

When operational, it will dwarf the existing nuclear power plant currently facilitating the town, Bilibino, which is capable of producing 48MW of power.

Also, because it will be based off the coast of the town further into the Arctic Circle, it will become the most northerly nuclear power plant in the world.

Built by the Rosatom Corporation, the Akademik Lomonosov has been a number of years in the making and has experienced a number of delays. Its design is supposedly to allow it to be portable and to prevent it from being damaged in the event of an earthquake and a follow-up tsunami.

Despite the immense power on board, it does not have its own engines, meaning it will be towed the entire length of the journey and whenever it needs to be moved again.

Pevek

The town of Pevek which will be powered by the reactor. Image: Vladimir Sevrinovsky/Shutterstock

An irresponsible move?

The second stage of loading the fuel on board is expected to take place in the summer of 2019 where it will then be sent to Pevek, which is located closer to the US state of Alaska than Russia’s capital, Moscow.

Criticism of the plant has been fierce in some circles, with Greenpeace calling the move “irresponsible”.

“To test a nuclear reactor in a densely populated area like the centre of St Petersburg is irresponsible to say the least,” said Greenpeace’s nuclear expert for central and eastern Europe, Jan Haverkamp. “However, moving the testing of this ‘nuclear Titanic’ away from the public eye will not make it less so.”

Despite its unique nature, the floating nuclear power plant is not a new concept, having already been achieved by the US, albeit on a smaller scale, with the Sturgis power plant operating in Panama in the 1960s and 1970s.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com