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"Chernobyl on ice" or "Titanic nuclear"? We present to you the Russian project for a floating power plant in the Arctic

"Chernobyl on ice" or "Titanic nuclear"? We present to you the Russian project for a floating power plant in the Arctic
"Chernobyl on ice" or "Titanic nuclear"? We present to you the Russian project for a floating power plant in the Arctic
A sea monster. Nearly 144 m long, 30 m wide and some 21,000 tonnes of steel.... The Akademik Lomonosov is a new kind of ship. It is not a luxury liner, but a floating nuclear power plant built to supply energy to the small town of Pevek, Russia, in the northeast of the country, 350 km north of the Arctic Circle.

Currently in Murmansk, this first floating nuclear power plant in history is scheduled to start its long 5,000 km journey to Pevek in late summer. A project that worries environmental organizations about what could become an "Ice Chernobyl", according to them. All this in an area that has so far been spared from the human footprint, but that global warming could well completely open up.

How was this power plant project born?
This floating power plant was designed by Rosatom, the Russian state company in charge of atomic energy. "A first Russian floating nuclear power plant project was considered in 1998," says Karine Herviou, director of the Nuclear Safety Division of the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). The project was relaunched in 2006 and construction began a year later. The work is finally completed in 2017.

In the same year, the plant was launched in St. Petersburg. It is in this city of 5 million inhabitants that the two reactors must be loaded with fuel. But in response to concerns from environmental organisations and a petition launched by Greenpeace, the Russian authorities decide that this operation will finally take place in Murmansk, on the shores of the Barents Sea, where the Akademik Lomonosov dropped anchor in May 2018. This is where the two 35 MW reactors, SMR (Small Modular Reactor), were loaded with fuel.

These are two small reactors, with an electrical power of 35 MW, compared to a power of 900 MW for the least powerful French generating reactors.
Karine Herviou
in franceinfo

"These are the same types of reactors that are already used on Russian icebreakers and submarines," says Joël Guidez, international nuclear expert at the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission (CEA). With this capacity, the plant can supply electricity to a city of 200,000 people - 5,000 people live in Pevek. It should also be used to "desalinate water and provide heating thanks to the steam from the turbines", adds the expert in franceinfo.

The Akademik Lomonosov will be towed by two boats to Pevek, 5,000 km away, where operation is expected to begin at the end of 2019 for about 40 years.
What is the point of a floating power plant?
In Pevek, the Akademik Lomonosov will replace two aging power plants: one thermal power plant launched in 1961 and the other nuclear power plant inaugurated thirteen years later. In these remote areas, it is therefore possible to build a power plant on land, but "the power of this floating power plant is more suitable than that of a high-power reactor, which, moreover, represents a significant cost of construction," observes Karine Herviou. Russia has therefore favoured the maritime solution.

The idea is that the plant should be low-power, mobile and used in the Russian Arctic, where large capacities are not required.
A Russian official
cited by AFP

This first power plant of its kind makes it possible above all to "supply electricity and heat to the most remote regions, thus supporting growth and sustainable development", supports AFP Vitali Troutnev, responsible for the construction and operation of Rosatom's floating nuclear power plants. According to him, these nuclear power plants could save 50,000 tons of CO2 each year. "An interesting solution to reduce coal, the most polluting of all energies, which still accounts for 38% of electricity production in the world," says Valérie Faudon, Executive Director of the French Nuclear Energy Company (Sfen), a very proatome think tank, in Capital magazine.

But all this comes at a cost: about 30 billion rubles, or 420 million euros. "We have to believe them, but in my opinion, it cost more because of the lengthening of the initial planning," says Joël Guidez. However, the return on investment can be interesting. "Once the plant is at the end of its life, reactors can be dismantled more easily, in the factory, and the site used for other purposes," explains Karine Herviou. "This system allows a certain flexibility," says Joël Guidez.

With a seawater pool, a sports hall and a sauna inside, the Akademik Lomonosov is "a kind of floating witness nuclear power plant", writes the magazine L'Usine Nouvelle (paid article), which was able to visit the ship in June 2019. Russia hopes to renew the experience and build new ones, especially in order to sell them to other countries (Asian, for example), attracted by this travel capacity.

Why install it in the Arctic?
In the far north, global warming is opening up a new field of possibilities. Previously, Russia used icebreakers to reach these areas. But with climate change, "she realized that she no longer necessarily needed it," says Karine Herviou. This offers "economic opportunities", according to Hélène de Pooter, lecturer at the University of Franche-Comté and author of the book L'emprise des Etats côtiers sur l'Arctique. "Increased navigation, development of ports, exploitation at sea of natural resources (mining and biological), development of tourism, export of technology, development of the timber sector, scientific research", she lists, contacted by franceinfo.

Russia has understood the geopolitical challenge associated with global warming and the potential economic benefits of developing a seaway from the north along the Arctic coast.
Karine Herviou
in franceinfo

About 2 million Russians live on the Arctic coast, CNN argues. And no less than 20% of the country's GDP is generated on these sides, according to the American channel. The subsoil is full of hydrocarbons and minerals that will become exploitable as the ice melts, while the reserves available in Siberia are decreasing. "It is important for Russia to show its hold on its Arctic region, (...) in the face of its neighbours, but also for domestic political purposes, to claim its sovereignty over a territory that has been somewhat neglected since the 1970s," says Frédéric Lasserre, director of the Conseil québécois d'études géopolitiques (CQEG), interviewed by the Quebec daily Le Devoir.

Are there any concerns about this project?
If Russia welcomes such a project, environmental organisations are sounding the alarm. "This plant shifts the risk of nuclear disaster to the fragile waters of the Arctic," says Jan Haverkamp, a Greenpeace nuclear expert, in a statement. "Its installation in the harsh environment of the Russian Arctic will pose a constant threat to the inhabitants of the North and the unspoilt nature" of the region, Greenpeace reproaches.

The environmental NGO is also concerned about the route to Pevek, which is fraught with obstacles that the plant may not be able to resist. "With its flat-bottomed hull and lack of self-propulsion, it's like balancing a nuclear power plant on a raft and putting it
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