Grace LiuWhatever Flots Russia’s Boat: The World’s First Floating Nuclear Power Plant Goes Operational

Co-authored by Blake A., CNS Graduate Research Assistant

The Akademik Lomonosov moored at its permanent location in Pevek. Source: Business Insider

In April of this year, Russia announced the commissioning of the world’s first and only floating nuclear power plant (FNPP). The ship, named the Akademik Lomonosov, recently moved to its permanent mooring station in Pevek (69.706101°, 170.289877°), a port in the Arctic Circle. Satellite images captured the ceremonious moment of its arrival on 09 September.

Features of both ships are visible in satellite imagery, clearly identifying it as the Akademik and its tug boat.

The ship originated at Murmansk (69.049371°, 33.073811°), where nuclear fuel was loaded into the reactor, then it took the Northern Sea Route (NSR), arriving in Pevek ahead of schedule. Ground photos and satellite imagery from September 9-10, 2019 show the ship did arrive in Pevek by the 9th. However, it appears that the ship did not moor until September 14.

Ground images taken by various sources in Pevek also show the ship’s arrival.

A ground image taken from these apartment buildings, looks out over the pier to the Akademik arriving in port.

Operation

The most recent visible image shows the ship moored at its pier. The Akademik is planned to permanently operate here, becoming the northernmost operating nuclear reactor in the world, replacing power output from the Bilibino nuclear power plant and the Chaunskaya thermal power plant to provide energy to the surrounding region.

The image also shows plumes of effluent from the ship, which could originate from a generator or the reactor cooling system. This may indicate that the power plant is now online.

Planning and Construction
Construction on the Akademik first began in Severodvinsk in 2007, then  later moved to St. Petersburg. The ship was moved to Murmansk on 21 May 2018 and commissioned on 28 April 2019.

The Akademik is the first of a planned fleet of floating nuclear power plants that Russia intends to build in the coming years. A source claims that Russia plans eventually commercialize these FNPPs, citing interest from customers in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is suspected that these floating power sources will help Russia develop its Northern Fleet, further bolstering its military presence in the Arctic Circle. While it is not self-propelled, the floating reactor’s portable design allows the reactor to be stationed in a various locations, providing reliable power for remote areas in the Arctic region.

Timeline of Pevek Pier Construction

Planet images show construction of the pier beginning sometime between September 2016 and April 2017 and continuing until its complete in 2019. Because of the extreme cold and ice, it is likely that the bulk of construction took place over spring and summer of 2017-2018.

Cranes are visible building infrastructure on the pier.

Implications for Proliferation

The commissioning of a floating nuclear power plant certainly poses safety and security threats, especially when it is owned and operated within a state that was not immediately or entirely open about a radiological incident just a couple of months ago. We can only hope that the Russian authorities and ROSATOM have taken the necessary precautions to prevent mishandling or theft of nuclear material, and to assure that the FNPP possesses comparable operational safety to those of their land-based counterparts.

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