Environmentalists aren’t happy about the seagoing reactor.
A 459-foot long towed platform ship built in Russia is heading for the Arctic coast. But the ship setting sail, the Akademik Lomonosov, isn’t exactly seen as innocuous by environmentalists.
That’s because it’s carrying two nuclear reactors.
Greenpeace dubbed the ship the “Floating Chernobyl” and “Chernobyl on Ice” before it took off on its voyage (and before this year’s hit HBO series revived public interest in the 1986 nuclear disaster).
Last week, the Akademik Lomonosov left the Arctic port of Murmansk in northwestern Russia and will travel 3,100 miles on its maiden journey to the port of Pevek on the Chukotka Peninsula in the East. The trip should take two to three weeks to complete.
The ship, painted in the colors of the Russian flag, is named for Mikhail Lomonosov, a Russian scientist and writer responsible for such contributions as the law of conversation of mass in chemical reactions and his discovery of Venus’s atmosphere.
Between the two 35-megawatt nuclear reactors on board, the ship is poised to supply electricity to settlements and firms extracting precious stones and hydrocarbons in the remote Chukotka area, a peninsula that’s about as close as you can get to Alaska.
In and around that Arctic region, about two million Russians reside in villages that are usually only reachable by ship or plane if the weather cooperates. However, those outlying areas are responsible for as much as 20 percent of Russia’s GDP and are central to tapping into natural resources.
The push into the Arctic is in part because Western Siberian hydrocarbons are waning, according to the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C. and studies post-Soviet Russia. Russia wants to tap into that zone, which is estimated to have about 13 percent of the world’s oil, 30 percent of the world’s natural gas, and other rare earth minerals.
While environmentalists are critical of the Lomonosov platform—saying that a massive wave could lead to nuclear meltdowns and that the introduction of nuclear power to the Arctic north would be devastating to the relatively untouched environment—Russian authorities say these claims are baseless.
Nuclear watchdogs specifically pointed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster Japan to discuss the risks of a seagoing reactor.
In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which is about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, was triggered by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. When the earthquake was detected, the active reactors automatically shut down their fission reactions. But due to an electricity failure, emergency diesel fuel generators, which powered pumps that cooled the reactor’s core, started up. When the tsunami hit 46 minutes later, climbing over the plant’s seawall and flooding the first four reactors, the emergency generators were killed, resulting in a loss of coolant and multiple nuclear meltdowns.
Engineers on the Lomonosov say that they’ve learned from Fukushima and that the plant is built to withstand a tsunami.
Nevertheless, critics still say the key benefits of the Russian floating plant, including mobility and the ability to work in remote areas, are also downfalls, as they complicate security procedures like routine disposal of nuclear fuel and rescue operations if the ship were to be hit by a massive wave.
This article was written by Courtney Linder and was published by Popular Mechanics on 26/08/2019