The Akademik Lomonosov (pictured) left its shipyard in St Petersburg yesterday (Saturday) and is due to sail across the Baltic and around Norway, much to Oslo’s distaste, to the Russian port of Murmansk, the state-run Interfax news agency reported.
The vessel’s two reactors would then be equipped with nuclear fuel, said Pavel Ipatow of the operator Rosenergoatom, according to Kremlin mouthpiece Tass.
By the summer of 2019, the plant is due to sail from Murmansk to the Arctic to supply electricity and heat to outposts and desalinate seawater. The Akademik Lomonosov is intended to supply about 100,000 people with electricity with the final destination Pevek in Siberia near the Bering Straits.
The project has been criticised for its environmental risks with Greenpeace recently warning that there was a danger of a “Chernobyl on ice”.
Greenpeace nuclear specialist Jan Haverkamp said initial plans to test the vessel in St Petersburg had been scraped and the Lomonosov still posed a threat to the environment.
“To test a nuclear reactor in a densely populated area like the centre of St Petersburg is irresponsible to say the least,” Haverkamp said.
“However, moving the testing of this ‘nuclear Titanic’ away from the public eye will not make it less so.
“Nuclear reactors bobbing around the Arctic Ocean will pose a shockingly obvious threat to a fragile environment which is already under enormous pressure from climate change.
“This hazardous venture is not just a threat to the Arctic but, potentially, to other densely populated or vulnerable natural regions too.”
Russia wants to secure the rich deposits of oil and gas that are being exposed by the climate-induced melting of ice. New ship routes are opening up in Russia’s north and the Russian military is boosting its deployments in the region.
Construction of a second floating plant is expected to begin next year, with the Russian media reporting that the floating power stations could be sold to other countries. Norway and Sweden have expressed concerns over the potential for an accident involving the Lomonsov during its transit to the Arctic, while it passes close to their coastlines, and construction process.
Rosatom said precautions had been taken to prevent nuclear accidents.
“[The vessel] is designed with the great margin of safety that exceeds all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors invincible for tsunamis and other natural disasters,” a Rosatom statement said.
“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 before leaving St Petersburg. Picture credit: YouTube