Loaded with nuclear fuel, the Akademik Lomonosov left the Arctic port of Murmansk to begin its 5,000 kilometre (3,000-mile) voyage to Pevek in northeastern Siberia.
Nuclear agency Rosatom says the reactor is a simpler alternative to building a conventional plant on ground that is frozen all year round, and it intends to sell such reactors abroad. But environmental groups have long warned of the dangers of the project, dubbing it a potential “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic.” A deadly explosion this month at a military testing site in Russia’s far north caused a radioactive surge, prompting further concerns.
The reactor’s trip is expected to last between four and six weeks, depending on the weather conditions and the amount of ice on the way. Work began on the 144-metre (472-foot) Akademik Lomonosov in Saint Petersburg in 2006. When it arrives in Pevek, a town of 5,000 in the Siberian region of Chukotka, it will replace a local nuclear plant and a closed coal plant. It is due to go into operation by the end of year, mainly serving the region’s oil platforms as Russia develops the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic.
The vessel weighs 21,000 tons and has two reactors with a capacity of 35 megawatts each, close to that of those used by nuclear icebreakers. It has a crew of 69 and travels at a speed of 3.5 to 4.5 knots.
The nuclear industry, seeking to reinvent itself in a gloomy market, is developing smaller, cheaper reactors to attract new customers. They follow the examples of submarines, icebreakers and aircraft carriers, which have long used nuclear power, and are intended for isolated areas with little infrastructure.