MURMANSK, Russia – Onboard the Akademik Lomonosov, Russia’s first Floating Nuclear Power Plant, there is already excited movement as preparations are being made for the long trip from Murmansk, in the far northwest of Russia, to the remote Arctic port of Pevek in the Chukotka region, one of Russia’s most isolated, with most of its territory located beyond the Arctic Circle.
When it arrives in the frigid terrain, the Lomonosov will become the northernmost operating nuclear plant in the world.
“The trip to Pevek will take from 20 to 40 days, depending upon the weather conditions, as well as the ice and weather,” Vladimir Iriminku, the leading engineer in charge of Environmental Protection, told New Europe on 27 June while onboard the Floating NPP.
The Lomonosov is named in honour of Russia’s leading Enlightenment-era polymath, a man who revolutionized the Russian scientific community and contributed to the scientific world.
The Floating NPP is currently moored at the Rosatomflot base near a fleet of well-guarded nuclear-powered icebreakers. The FPU – the first ship of its kind – to provide electricity to Russia’s isolated Arctic region, does not have a propulsion system of its own.
“It has no rudder and no engine. When it will be towed to Pevek, it will be accompanied by four ships: one icebreaker, two towing ships and one smaller towing ship to control the direction,” Iriminku explained. On the ship’s bridge or so-called Towing Monitoring Room across from the ship’s large inclined windows, there is a wide range of radio equipment to communicate with the towing vessels.
Highlighting the importance of security, Iriminku stressed that during the trip, the reactors of the Floating NPP will be shut down and skilled personnel will monitor all the processes. “When this plant was completed at St Petersburg, it was shipped to Murmansk without personnel and no fuel at that time,” he said. Uranium fuel elements were loaded into the two reactors and they were tested for nearly a year. “The reactor is charged with fuel and all tests have been competed and yesterday the building company handed over the plant to Rosenergoatom concern and from 1 July, Rosenergoatom will be the owner of the plant,” he said.
Once down at the turbine hall, Iriminku told New Europe that Akademik Lomonosov has two reactors – each with a capacity of 35 MW – similar to those used on icebreakers – and the plant’s total capacity is 70MW.
Rosatomflot has the experience from nuclear power icebreakers. “The difference is that these reactors are more powerful reactor. Their capacity is higher than the capacity of reactors on icebreakers. There are two reactors and icebreakers often have one reactor,” he said. “This is tested concept and this is mastered since the 1950s. Safety is top priority,” he added.
Iriminku also stressed that the designer took into account the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. “After Fukushima all mistakes were taken into account here,” he said. He said the floating NPP could resist a 9-Point tsunami. “And on shore the mooring pier is protection against such waves. This Floating plant has double vessel and the vessel consists of three decks divided into 10 compartments,” he said.
Eventually the FPU will produce enough energy and heat to replace Pevek’s coal-fired power plant and an ageing nuclear power plant in nearby Bilibino to supply over 50,000 people with electricity and reduce the carbon footprint in the Arctic by tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
“In the future, it will substitute all power facilities in Pevek but in the beginning it will work parallel to them,” Iriminku said, adding that the power and heat plant would help cut CO2 emissions.
“Now it is ready to be towed to Pevek and to be connected to the grid. Everything now depends upon the availability of the onshore structures in Pevek. The plant is ready but the structures are still under construction. Some construction will continue when we come to Pevek, but the most important facilities will be ready such as transmission lines, connection components and pipelines connecting this plant to the shore,” Iriminku explained.
Onshore and hydraulic structures for the floating nuclear power plant (FNPP), as well as infrastructure ensuring the transmission of electricity to the local grid and heating for the city’s network will be completed by the end of this year in Pevek. The Lomonosov will be connected to the grid in December 2019 to become the world’s only operational floating nuclear power plant and the northernmost nuclear installation in the world.
He noted that this is a pilot project and Rosatomflot hopes to build other Floating Nuclear Power Plants that can be used in other locations in Russia and all over the world. “This is a mobile facility. It can approach any island, any difficult to access area in the world. It can be shipped by sea or even by rivers,” he said.
The power plant’s operational lifespan is 40 years. Following the end of its life cycle, the unit can be taken away for reactor replacement and maintenance, without leaving any hazardous materials behind.
“Another advantage of this nuclear plant all radioactive waste will be stored on board. It another words, it is commissioned, it generates electricity for a certain period of time, then disconnected from the lines and leaves the site with radioactive waste so there’s no influence to environment at all and leave no radioactive waste after completion of operation,” Iriminku said.
He added that every 12 to 15 years, this floating nuclear and heat plant will be shut down for intermediate maintenance and during this outage, reactors will be refueled and the storage on board and radioactive waste will transferred to the national operator for final disposal. This means that in 12 years another floating nuclear plant should be built.
According to the leading engineer in charge of Environmental Protection, at the moment, two more floating plants are designed and planned to be built and they will replace this plant during maintenance, which will take place not far from Murmansk in Barents Sea region where there will be one site for maintenance and another site for radioactive waste discharge. Maintenance will take six months, he said.
He noted that the FPU has to abide by regulations like any nuclear power plant around the world. “We should prove that our technology is safe and keep all the documentation according to the rules of the country,” he said.
Iriminku noted that everything would depend on requirements of customer and Rosatomflot plans to construct the plants and onshore facilities as well. Akademik Lomonosov cost 5 billion rubles but future plants will be cheaper. “As an example, future plants will be designed without residential design. For future plants operator will stay on shore. This plant has swimming pool, future plants will have no such facilities. They will be cheaper,” he said.