Fire at the floating nuclear power plant in St. Petersburg

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Feature story - 4 July, 2017
On July 4, fire broken out at the floating NPP Academic Lomonosov in the center of St. Petersburg, Russian agency RIA reports. The fire covered the area of 16 square meters and was localized, the agency says. No-one was harmed. Luckily, so far the reactors have not been fuelled and launched.

The first floating NPP, which Rosatom calls “experimental”, is being constructed at the Baltic Shipyards, in the historical centre of St. Petersburg, some two kilometres away from St.Isaac’s cathedral and about three kilometres away from the Hermitage. In 2014, the city Governor Georgy Poltavchenko gave his consent for the reactor fuelling and launch. It is to be the first of a fleet of floating nuclear reactors to be operated in the Arctic.

The fuelling of Akademik Lomonosov was planned for the spring of 2017 and the reactors are planned to be activated in the coming autumn. However, the nuclear regulator has recently told Greenpeace that after inspection of the FNPP in March fuelling was delayed. A new inspection will only be possible in a couple of months, the regulator commented. The construction of the “Akademik Lomonosov” does not fall under the regular oversight tasks of the nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor, which only has limited access to the project.

"There was no fire, only a mild smoke on shore near the Akademik Lomonosov floating NPP. The smoke was coming from a welding machine, and it had been put out even before the emergency response crew came to the scene," the shipyard's press service told the Sputnik news agency.

“This fire did not pose a nuclear risk, as the fuel is not in the reactors yet. But it says a lot about the industrial culture of the Baltic Shipyards. It is good the fuel loading was delayed because the inspection in March found that the Shipyards were not ready. We think it is a good time to step out from this project”, says Rashid Alimov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s anti-nuclear project.

City residents know very little about Rosatom’s plans. An opinion poll a couple of weeks ago showed that 85% of the city’s populations have no knowledge about the planned fuelling and activation. However, when asked, 59% said that they consider these plans dangerous, while 28% do not think so and 9% said that they have no opinion as they do not consider themselves experts.

On 1 June, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly’s environmental commission demanded that the construction of floating nuclear power plants should be put under permanent oversight of the nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor. The Commission stated: “The Assembly deputies, nuclear energy experts and St. Petersburg residents are worried about the proper control ensured over the construction in the city of floating nuclear atomic units and icebreakers propelled by nuclear engines”. A few days ago, before it was to be passed on to the plenary of the Legislative Assembly, the environmental committee dropped its request without explanation.

“The fire at the FNPP in the centre of St.Petersburg proves that the concerns of the citizens are not groundless. This is not the first time that a fire happens at the FNPP. The presence of this installation in the centre of a megacity is a far too big risk, even more so without regulatory oversight. There is no rational reason to activate the Akademik Lomonosov’s reactors in the middle of St. Petersburg, and we will continue our campaign against this irresponsible activity”, says Rashid Alimov. He added: “The plans of Rosatom for a fleet of these reactors to be operated in the Arctic are simply too risky.”

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