Energy

Russia's Akademik Lomonosov joins the fleet of floating nuclear power plants on our oceans

The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
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The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow

Last weekend, Russia's floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, was towed out to sea for the first time, beginning its voyage from St Petersburg to Murmansk, where it will be eventually loaded up with nuclear fuel and started up sometime in 2019.

The reveal of this mammoth and imposing floating structure was unsurprisingly widely criticized, with Greenpeace calling it a "floating nightmare" and a potential "Chernobyl on ice." Of course, Rosatom, the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation, suggests its design, dubbed a Floating Nuclear Thermal Power Plant (FNPP) is safe and well-prepared for any potential disasters.

"The FNPP is designed with the great margin of safety that exceeds all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors invincible for tsunamis and other natural disasters," Rosatom claims in a statement. "In addition, the nuclear processes at the floating power unit meet all requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and do not pose any threat to the environment."

The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow

Despite the idea of floating nuclear power plants being somewhat unsettling in a time when we are still reconciling with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, the reality is there are dozens of nuclear reactors already floating around our oceans. Both the United States and Russia currently have a variety of warships, submarines and aircraft carriers that are powered by nuclear reactors. In fact, the Akademik Lomonosov is not nearly as large or powerful a generator as some found on larger vessels of the United States military.

The Akademik Lomonosov holds two KLT-40S reactor units, originally designed to power Russian icebreakers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The proposed floating power plant will reportedly be able to generate up to 70 MW of electric energy and 50 Gcal/hr of heat energy during normal operation. In comparison, the massive Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier revealed last year carries nuclear reactors capable of generating an estimated 700 MW.

Rosatom claims this modestly scaled floating nuclear power plant is designed to operate as mobile transportable power to remote areas in Russia's north and far east. It is reported it will be able to power a small city of up to 100,000 people and will initially be moored in the coastal town of Pevek.

The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow
The “Akademik Lomonosov” leaves St. Petersburg under tow

This is not the first semi-permanent floating nuclear power plant either. Between 1968 and 1976, a nuclear barge dubbed STURGIS was managed by the US military and floated in Gatun Lake, powering the Panama Canal Zone.

So, while headlines labeling this a "Nuclear Titanic" abound, it is worth putting things into perspective. Floating nuclear power plants are not a new concept, and in fact we already have many sailing around the globe right now, some of which are not necessarily new. The Akademik Lomonosov may look like a monolithic beast, and is not exactly state-of-the-art technology, but it is just one of many nuclear vessels in our seas.

Source: Rosatom

5 comments
Bob Bolhuis
Anybody besides me look at those pics and think that this "new" vessel already looks like a rusted out derelict? I hope they actually maintain it well enough to keep it floating...
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Being at sea is the best way of withstanding earthquakes and tsunamis. What Greenpeace is really afraid of is cheap electricity. These floating power plants are the beginning of pelagic farming.
MattHill
An A1B reactor which powers the latest aircraft carriers (Gerald R. Ford-class) for the United States navy has an output of 700Mw. There is no comparison. And this floating plant will never be shot at with missiles of torpedos. Even nuclear submarines have roughly the same output power of this plant. It's not a big deal.
ljaques
The skyscraper in the St. Petersburg background looks out of its element. And those are some sweet tugboats they have pushing the thing around. So, one more floating nuke plant shouldn't make any difference. Wow, 700mw on the Ford carrier? Amazing. You have to hand it to the Russian government. They don't waste massive amounts of money spiffing up gov't projects like ours does.
WolfeSA
So a 700MW subs reactor could in theory power city of 1 million? Wonder if the cost of constructing such a small reactor is less than a normal one. But still the waste issue remains...