As Vladimir Putin gets another six years in the seat as the Russian President, Russian engineers tow something through the Baltic Sea, something the world has never seen before.
The metal giant in tow has the symbol of an atom tattooed to its exterior, which onlookers know can only mean one thing; it’s nuclear. The Russians correctly assert that it will be the world’s only functioning floating nuclear power plant. Floating nuclear technologies are not new, but this is an impressive feat of engineering.
Russia’s state nuclear power company Rosatom is behind the construction of the unit.
Construction on the unit began in 2009 - the first stage of the build does not include any nuclear fuel. But, in 2019 it will reach stage two. The Deputy Head of the Directorate for the Floating NPP Construction and Operation Dmitriy Alekseenko said:
“At the first stage, the FPU with no nuclear fuel on board will be towed from the territory of Baltiysky Zavod to the landing of Atomflot FSUE in Murmansk. Then, at the second stage - roughly in the summer of 2019 - it will be sent from Murmansk to the seaport of Pevek, loaded with nuclear fuel and with the crew on board.”
Its final destination will be the Arctic town of Chukotka.
Russia is not a stranger to media coverage, much of which is overly negative. As a consequence this new floating nuclear power unit has been dubbed the ‘floating Chernobyl’. Greenpeace went as far as calling it ‘Chernobyl on ice’.
Some critics have said taking a nuclear reactor to an Arctic town may pose a danger to the environment. But Rachel Becker, writing for the Verge, makes a pertinent point - some critics are making risk assessments on the project, but conveniently overlooking the fact that submarines have been powered by nuclear means for 60 years.
Furthermore, experts warn that judging one nuclear plant by heavily publicized historical plant meltdowns is damaging the future of an energy source that should be part of a country’s energy mix.
According to Rosatom, the floating nuclear unit would be providing electricity for 100,000 people through its 70 megawatt capability. After the nuclear unit goes live in the coastal town of Pevek, it will be the most northerly located nuclear plant in the world.
The Russian government doesn’t intend slowing down; the Akademik Lomonosov is one of many mobile transportable low-power units planned to provide electricity. The mobile units can be used to power “remote industrial plants, port cities” and offshore gas and oil platforms.
The mobile unit currently traversing the Baltic Sea is a Floating Nuclear Thermal Power Plant (FNPP). The nuclear reactors the plant will utilize include technologies first devised in 1980 to power Russian icebreaker ships.
Bringing ship building and nuclear technologies together is now the pride of Russian engineers. To attempt to quell critics of the technology, the engineers of the state-run nuclear company put out some assurances in a press release:
“The FNPP is designed with the great margin of safety that exceeds all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors invincible to tsunamis and other natural disasters.”
Becker, Rachel. “The Scary Part of the Russian Nuclear Power Plant Isn't That It Floats.” The Verge, The Verge, 2 May 2018, www.theverge.com/2018/5/2/17313174/floating-nuclear-power-plant-russia-academik-lomonosov-chernobyl-titanic.
“The World's Only Floating Power Unit 'Akademik Lomonosov' Takes the Sea.” Benefits of Nuclear Energy, www.rosatom.ru/en/press-centre/news/the-world-s-only-floating-power-unit-akademik-lomonosov-takes-the-sea/.