Report: Russia to tow nuclear power station to the Arctic

    The Akademik Lomonosov nuclear power plant.

    Moscow (KINY) - Next month, a floating nuclear power plant called the Akademik Lomonosov will be towed via the Northern Sea Route to its final destination in the Far East, after almost two decades in construction.

    According to Fox News, it’s part of Russia’s ambition to bring electric power to a mineral-rich region.

    The 472-foot-long platform is going to float next to the small Arctic port town of Pevek, some 4,000 miles away from Moscow. It will supply electricity to settlements and companies extracting hydrocarbons and precious stones in the Chukotka region.

    A larger agenda is at work too: aiding President Vladimir Putin’s ambitious Arctic expansion plans, which have raised geopolitical concerns in the United States.

    The Admiral Lomonosov will be the northernmost operating nuclear plant in the world, and it’s key to plans to develop the region economically. About 2 million Russians reside near the Arctic coast in villages and towns similar to Pevek, settlements that are often reachable only by plane or ship if the weather permits. But they generate as much as 20 percent of the country’s GDP and are key for Russian plans to tap into the hidden Arctic riches of oil and gas as Siberian reserves diminish.

    In theory, floating nuclear power plants could help supply energy to remote areas without long-term commitments — or requiring large investments into conventional power stations on mostly uninhabitable land.

    Next month, a floating nuclear power plant called the Akademik Lomonosov will be towed via the Northern Sea Route to its final destination in the Far East, after almost two decades in construction.

    “These reactors were initially to be used within city limits, but unfortunately the Chernobyl incident hindered that,” Iriminku said. “Our citizens, especially if they are not technically savvy, don’t really understand nuclear energy and that these stations are built differently, so it’s almost impossible to explain that to them.”

    The explosion at Chernobyl directly caused around 31 deaths, but millions of people were exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

    The final death toll as a result of long-term radiation exposure is much disputed. Although the UN predicted up to 9,000 related cancer deaths back in 2005, Greenpeace later estimated up to 200,000 fatalities, taking further health problems connected to the disaster into account.

    Modern Russia hasn’t seen anything close to Chernobyl though. Russia, a major oil and gas producer, also operates several nuclear power stations. The state atomic energy corporation Rosatom has long maintained that its industrial record is one of reliability and safety and that its reactors have been modernized and upgraded.

    But rather than summoning the specter of Chernobyl, some nuclear watchdogs are drawing parallels to the 2011 accident at Fukushima in Japan, with the images of its waterlogged reactors still fresh in the public memory. The Russian plant’s main benefits — mobility and ability to work in remote regions — complicate some crucial security procedures, from routine disposal of the nuclear fuel to rescue operations in the event the platform is hit by a massive wave.

    But project engineers say they’ve learned the lessons of Fukushima. “This rig can’t be torn out of moorings, even with a 9-point tsunami, and we’ve even considered that if it does go inland, there is a backup system that can keep the reactor cooling for 24 hours without an electricity supply,” said Dmitry Alekseenko, deputy director of the Lomonosov plant.

    However, experts of Bellona, an NGO monitoring nuclear projects and environmental impacts, say 24 hours might not be enough to prevent a disaster should a tsunami land the rig among towns with two active nuclear reactors aboard.

    And then there is the question of cost. Some Russian officials have questioned the floating reactor complex’s price tag of an estimated $450 million, saying it would need to enter serial production to be economically viable. Rosatom has been working to attract clients from Asia, Africa and South America to purchase next iterations of Akademik Lomonosov, but has yet to announce any deals.

    The last Russian nuclear project of a comparable scale was completed in 2007 when the “50 Years of Victory” nuclear-powered icebreaker finally sailed after sitting in the docks since 1989. Now, after more than 20 years of arguments, changes of contractors and economic crises, Russian engineers can finally take pride in launching the world’s only nuclear floating rig.

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