His official name is Lomonosov Scholar. Greenpeace calls it the “floating Chernobyl.” It is Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to sail this Friday from the port of Murmansk, in the north-west of the country, towards the Chukotka peninsula, where it will begin operating in December. A journey of 5,000 kilometers to the eastern tip of the Russian Arctic coast that has triggered the alarms of environmentalists, who see an unnecessary risk of nuclear catastrophe.
The design and construction of the Lomonosov Academic has lasted a decade and his journey began in April 2018, when he went to St. Petersburg towing to Murmansk. The town is near the remote military base in which five people died from an accident during the test of a nuclear missile, the details of which are state secret and which raised the radiation rates in a nearby town.
A coincidence that has fueled the debate about the possible environmental impact of a failure of this floating plant. Rosatom, the Russian atomic agency, insists that the Lomonosov Scholar cannot sink under any circumstances not even in the event of a natural disaster and incorporates2011 disaster teachings in Fukushima (Japan).
The authorities reject any comparison with the case of Chernobyl, the Soviet plant that suffered in 1986 the worst nuclear accident in history , and wield the different power of nuclear reactors: two, 35 MW each, capable of supplying energy to one City of about 100,000 inhabitants.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups insist instead on the threat posed by the installation, which needs to be towed, which makes it easier for it to be the target of a terrorist attack. They also question the need to send floating nuclear stations to generate electricity in remote regions. The Lomonosov Academic will need in seven years a replacement of nuclear fuel, for which he must be towed back to Murmansk, with the consequent expense and threat of contamination.
This type of ingenuity has never been massively produced. It will be, in fact, the first floating nuclear plant since the MH-1A Sturgis, the US military reactor that supplied electricity to the Panama Canal between 1968 and 1975, when its maintenance was considered to be excessively expensive. The project to build a Westinghouse Electric floating nuclear plant in coastal waters of the State of New Jersey in the 1970s was abandoned by people’s protests and lack of consumers.
One of the background elements of the project is energy . Pevek, the port city on the Chukotka peninsula where the mill will dock, turns to coal (brought from the mines of the Zyrianka district, in Yakutia) and to the former Bilibian nuclear power plant to produce electricity.
The Lomonosov Academician authorities argue will contribute precisely to reducing pollutant emissions – by curbing the burning of coal and closing the obsolete nuclear plant. Pevek has less than 6,000 inhabitants, but it needs the energy for the mining industry in the area, especially the gold deposits.
Another key element of this floating nuclear reactor is the commercial one. Rosatom has not disclosed the cost of the project, for which a dozen countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia have been interested. The price will mark, in a way, the litmus test of its operation.
The Russian state agency says it has signed a memorandum of understanding to examine the possibility of building a floating nuclear plant in Sudan. It is these plans that most concern the Bellona Foundation, which follows environmental issues in the Arctic and doubts that Sudan can exploit such a plant with guarantees for the environment.
China plans to build about twenty floating atomic plants in the next decade (the first one must be completed in 2021) and, according to Bloomberg, some US investors want to produce atomic South Korea atomic cost reactors at a relatively low cost.