Floating nuclear plant to power up Russia’s Arctic
Born near the northern city of Arkhangelsk, close to the Arctic Circle, Mikhail Lomonosov was an 18th-century Russian renaissance man. An intellectual giant, who was equally a philosopher and writer that made important research and theoretical contributions that he is universally regarded as the “Father of Russian Science”.
When Russia decided to build a nuclear floating power unit (FPU) – the first ship of its kind – to provide electricity to the country’s isolated Arctic region, Russia named the vessel Akademik Lomonosov, in honour of the great progenitor of the country’s modern contributions to the scientific world.
“We made a parallel in history. The nuclear power plant is going to be transported in the north, in the Arctic and it’s going to be safe for the Arctic. It will bring power with it,” Vitaly Trutnev, Director of the Floating NPP Branch of Rosenergoatom, a subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, told New Europe in an interview at Atomexpo 2018 in Russia’s Black Sea coastal city of Sochi on May 15.
A few days later, on May 19, the Lomonosov was moored in Murmansk where it was towed from Saint Petersburg to be loaded with fuel. En route to Murmansk, the Lomonosov sailed over 4,000 km and travelled through four seas – the Baltic, Northern, Norwegian and Barents.
“All physical security measures, as well as environmental security measures, have been provided. The floating nuclear plant now has no nuclear fuel or chemicals inside. Everything has been removed for transportation and is sealed so that nothing has been left onboard,” Trutnev said. “Our plan is to deploy the nuclear power plant in the northeastern part of Russia in a town called Pevek. Since the floating nuclear plant can be moved anywhere, of course, we can move it wherever we want in the world.”
Once in Pevek, the Lomonosov will be connected to the grid to become the world’s only operational floating nuclear power plant and the northernmost nuclear installation in the world.
“It’s going to provide electricity to Eastern regions of Russia in the Arctic. So this region is isolated. It’s not connected to the huge territory of Russia. It’s very difficult to bring conventional fuel for thermal power plants there,” Trutnev said.
The Lomonosov will replace a coal-fired power plant and an aging nuclear power plant in nearby Bilibino to supply over 50,000 people with electricity and reduce the carbon footprint in the Arctic by tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, Rosatom said in a press release.
The nuclear FPU is equipped with two KLT-40C reactor systems – each with a capacity of 35 MW – similar to those used on icebreakers. The vessel is 144 metres long and 30 metres wide, and has a displacement of 21,000 tonnes.
Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said in a statement that the Lomonosov is a first-of-a-kind, or a reference project for mobile medium capacity range nuclear power units that are expected to be in growing demand in the coming years.
“We see great interest from all island nations where it is difficult, for various reasons, to set up a developed centralised power transmission infrastructure,” Likhachev said.
Rosatom is already working on second generation FPUs, or Optimised Floating Power Units (OFPUs), which will be equipped with two RITM-200M reactors (each with a capacity of 50 MW). In additional to having a greater power capacity, OFPUs will be smaller than their predecessors.
Asked about future commercial use of Russian floating nuclear plants, Trutnev pointed to a small model of the floating plant in Sochi, telling New Europe, “In Russia we adopted the so-called ‘reference’ approach. First of all, we have to study this floating nuclear power plant to confirm its operability, its viability, and correspondence with the design characteristics. After that, we can talk about its commercialisation and use beyond Russia’s borders,” he said.