Explained: Why Russia has built a floating nuclear plant; why some are nervous
On Saturday, a Russian-built floating nuclear power plant completed its 5,000-km journey along the Northern Sea Route, causing excitement in the energy sector, but sparking fears among environmentalists over the safety of the Arctic region.
The Akademik Lomonosov is a first-of-its-kind floating nuclear power station built in St Petersburg, the Russian port city on the Gulf of Finland. Three tugboats pulled it from the northern port of Murmansk for 5,000 kilometres to Chukotka, in Russia’s far east.
Named after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the 21,000-tonne floating plant is 144 m long and 30 m wide, and contains two nuclear reactors of 35 MW each. It is a small plant compared to conventional land-based nuclear projects.
Run by the state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, the Akademik Lomonosov is expected to have a working life of 40 years.
Why such a plant
After it becomes operational next year, the plant will supply electricity to the Chukotka region, where important Russian national assets such as oil, gold, and coal reserves are located.
Some 50,000 people currently live in the area, and get their electricity from a coal power station and an ageing nuclear power plant. The floating station would become the northernmost nuclear power project in the world.
Electricity supplied by floating power stations, without long-duration contracts or massive investments, is an option that island nations could consider. Power from such small-sized plants can also be supplied to remote regions, as Russia plans to do.
Fears and apprehensions
Environmental groups such as Greenpeace Russia have criticised the project as a “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic”. Activists fear that any accident aboard the plant could cause great damage to the fragile Arctic region. A recent nuclear accident in Russia after which there was a brief spike in radiation levels has added to the fears. The radiation fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is also cited as a reason to not rush into such projects.