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Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Power Plant; It's Headed To The Arctic

The Akademik Lomonosov, which the Russian energy company Rosatom calls "the world's only floating nuclear power unit," left port on Saturday.
The Akademik Lomonosov, which the Russian energy company Rosatom calls "the world's only floating nuclear power unit," left port on Saturday.

A massive floating nuclear power plant is now making its way toward its final destination at an Arctic port, after Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom launched the controversial craft over the weekend. It's the first nuclear power plant of its kind, Russian officials say.

Called the Akademik Lomonosov, the floating power plant is being towed at a creeping pace out of St. Petersburg, where it was built over the last nine years. It will eventually be brought northward, to Murmansk – where its two nuclear reactors will be loaded with nuclear fuel and started up this fall.

From there, the power plant will be pulled to a mooring berth in the Arctic port of Pevek, in far northeast Russia. There, it will be wired into the infrastructure so it can replace an existing nuclear power installment on land.

Critics of the plan include Greenpeace, which recently warned of a "Chernobyl on ice" if Russia's plans to create a fleet of floating nuclear power stations result in a catastrophe.

Russian officials say the mandate of the Akademik Lomonoso is to supply energy to remote industrial plants and port cities, and to offshore gas and oil platforms.

"The nuclear power plant has two KLT-40S reactor units that can generate up to 70 MW of electric energy and 50 Gcal/hr of heat energy during its normal operation," Rosatom said. "This is enough to keep the activity of the town populated with 100,000 people."

It will take more than a year for the power plant to reach its new home port. The original plan had called for fueling the floating plant before it began that journey, at the shipyard in central St. Petersburg – but that was scuttled last summer, after concerns were raised both in Russia and in countries along the power plant's route through the Baltic Sea and north to the Arctic.

Greenpeace in Russia, for instance, said it collected more than 11,000 signatures against the plan to put nuclear fuel into the plant while it floated along St. Petersburg's shores.

When Rosatom announced its change of plans last summer, Rashid Alimov, coordinator of the Greenpeace Russia anti-nuclear project said that the organization "still considers the very concept of a floating nuclear power plant too dangerous and a senseless technological solution."

Rosatom says it hopes the floating nuclear power plant will be online in 2019. It adds that the power plant "is designed with the great margin of safety that exceeds all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors invincible for tsunamis and other natural disasters."

The idea for an offshore nuclear power plant has also been floated in the U.S. – or more specifically, off of New Jersey's coast. That plan arose in 1969, when the Public Service Electric & Gas Co. of New Jersey wanted to put a nuclear plant in the Atlantic Ocean, some 11 miles northeast of Atlantic City.

To enact that plan, suppliers were lined up, and millions of dollars were spent; a mockup was even built. But popular resistance emerged against it, and as The New Yorker reported in 1975, "More than 50 construction & operating permits were required, & none yet issued."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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