Russia unveils first floating nuclear power station

Built in Saint Petersburg, the Akademik Lomonosov is currently moored in Murmansk where it is being loaded with nuclear fuel before heading to eastern Siberia. Reuters photo

To meet its growing electricity needs in its drive to develop oil resources in remote Arctic regions, Russia has built a floating nuclear power station, a project that detractors deride as a "Chernobyl on ice".

Built in Saint Petersburg, the Akademik Lomonosov is currently moored in Murmansk where it is being loaded with nuclear fuel before heading to eastern Siberia.

On Saturday, head of state nuclear power firm Rosatom unveiled the brown-and-mustard-painted facility in the city's estuary as an orchestra played the national anthem.

Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachev hailed the new power station as "a new world first," which he said "underlines the undoubted leading role of Rosatom and the Russian nuclear energy sector on the global agenda."

"I hope today will be a symbolic day for the Arctic," Likhachev said, adding that Rosatom "is setting a trend, a demand for medium-capacity nuclear facilities, mobile facilities, for many decades ahead."

The 144-by-30-metre barge holds two reactors with two 35 megawatt nuclear reactors that are similar to those used to power icebreaker ships.

The Akademik Lomonosov will be towed in the summer of 2019 to the port of Pevek in the autonomous Chukotka region in Russia's extreme northeast.

The barge can produce enough electricity to power a town of 200,000 residents, far more than the 5,000 live in Russia's northernmost town.

But Akademik Lomonosov isn't in Pevek to just keep the lights on in homes.

As Russia is forced to push further north into the Arctic in the search for oil and gas, it needs electricity in far-flung locations.

"The idea is to have low-capacity, mobile power plants that can be used in the Russian Arctic where large amounts of electricity aren't needed" and the construction of a conventional power station would be complicated and costly, said Sergei Kondratyev at the Institute for Energy and Finance in Moscow.

"The alternatives are coal, gas and diesel. But diesel is very costly," he said, while the gas needs to be delivered as liquefied natural gas or LNG.

Vitaly Trutnev, who is in charge of the construction and operation of floating nuclear power stations at Rosatom, said such units would "supply electricity and heat to the most remote regions, supporting also growth and sustainable development."

He said use of such floating reactors can save 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The Akademik Lomonosov is set to replace an ageing nuclear reactor and a coal-fired power plant which are both located in Chukotka.

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Russia unveils first floating nuclear power station

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