Chernobyl on ice: Russia’s new floating nuclear plant

The Russian government granted an operating licence for the world’s only floating nuclear power plant. Greenpeace has called it “Chernobyl on ice”. So why have the Russians done it? Why Arctic zone is so crucial to Russia? Oscar Voss explains for ECFR.

In June, the Russian government granted an operating licence for the world’s only floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov. Russian tugs will shortly be making the long journey towing the twin-reactor plant 5,000 kilometres – from Murmansk in European Russia to the tiny port of Pevek on the Russian Far East coastline of the Arctic Ocean. Once there it will rest offshore and, from December this year, the Lomonosov will begin pumping out electricity as the world’s northernmost nuclear power station.

The floating nuclear energy plant has not been met with universal welcome, to say the least: off the coast of Norway a Greenpeace ship protested with a sign that simply read: “Floating nuclear plant? Seriously?”

But this development does not exist in isolation: the Russian government is intent on developing its Arctic zone, a region whose thawing ice has presented the country with new opportunities. The Lomonosov is a significant part of that effort. Russia’s plans contain some questionable assumptions as they respond to needs the Russian state has identified as important for its future development.

A blemished record

Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy corporation, is not insensible to the alarm this action has caused. To allay safety concerns, it has stated that the Lomonosov’s KLT-40S reactors are “tried and tested”. Similar reactors, it notes, have operated in the Arctic since 1988 on Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet. It further claims that the reactors are designed with a “great margin of safety” and that they are “invincible from tsunamis”. The agency also argues that the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean provide an ample source of coolant in the event of an emergency.

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