What Could Possibly Go Wrong with a Floating Nuclear Power Plant?

by Guest Blogger

April 26, 2018

On the anniversary of the Catastrophic Chernobyl disaster, plans are underway for the world's first designated floating nuclear power plant in the region. What could possibly go wrong with that idea?

On the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Greenpeace activists on inflatable boats protest in St. Petersburg, Russia, against the plans of the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom to fuel and activate reactors of the floating NPP “Akademik Lomonosov”. The power station is built at the Baltic Shipyard right in the center of Russia’s second biggest city, three kilometers away from the Hermitage. Rosatom plans to tow the floating NPP to Russia's Far East and use it for the industrial exploration of the Arctic.

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the catastrophic Chernobyl disaster. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine exploded, sending a massive amount of radiation into the atmosphere.

This generation may no longer remember that for a few months spinach and other green vegetables had to be destroyed in countries like the Netherlands and Germany, that cows all over Europe needed to be kept in stables and milk taken out of consumption, and that for more than two decades, reindeer in Lapland, sheep in the English Lake District and wild boar in the German Schwarzwald had to be slaughtered because of too high radioactive contamination.

In the countries that took the biggest hit — Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia — hundreds of square kilometers are still too polluted for people to return, and several million people in a wider circle continue to have to accept radioactive contamination as a daily risk. At the site of the catastrophe, the international community only last year sufficiently covered the exploded reactor block to enable the start of clean-up work, requiring technology we do not yet have.

A floating nuclear plant? Seriously?

Russian nuclear moloch Rosatom plans to move in the coming weeks the world’s first designated floating nuclear power plant, the ‘Akademik Lomonosov’, from St. Petersburg through the Baltic Sea and around Norway to Murmansk. There, it will be loaded with nuclear fuel and tested at a few kilometers distance from the nearly 300,000 inhabitants. Initially, Rosatom planned to load fuel and test the ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ in the very center of St. Petersburg, 2.3 kilometers from the St. Isaac Cathedral.

What could possibly go wrong?

There was a plaintive whine from the Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor, but because of a hole in Russian nuclear law, inspectors still don’t have full access or a mandate to criticize the Lomonosov. Only a petition of twelve-thousand St.Petersburg citizens, questions in the city’s legislative assembly and major concerns from Baltic Sea countries about transporting two reactors filled with irradiated fuel, without its own propulsion, along their rocky coasts, caused Rosatom to use some common sense.

A floating NPP (burgundy red vessel with yellow stripes) moored in the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg.
In the center of St.Petersburg, Russia’s second-biggest city, Rosatom is building a floating NPP “Akademik Lomonosov”. Rostechnadzor, Russia’s nuclear regulator, has confirmed that the reactor will be fuelled and started at the Baltic Shipyard.

Once loaded with fuel and tested, the ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ will be towed next year 5000 kilometers along the–because of climate change, now ice-free –Northern Sea Route to the tiny port of Pevek in the far North-Eastern region of Chukotka. There, it will provide the 5000 strong population and its port and coal mines with 70 MW of electricity.

The ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ is to be the first of a fleet of floating nuclear power stations to be stationed in the Russian Arctic. Rosatom recently received the mandate to manage all shipping and development along the Northern Sea Route. These floating nuclear plants need to deliver the energy to dig for more climate-destroying fossil fuels.

If this development is not halted, the next nuclear catastrophe could well be a Chernobyl-on-ice or a Chernobyl-on-the-rocks.

Jan Haverkamp is the expert consultant on nuclear energy for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe.

Rashid Alimov is the coordinator of the Greenpeace Russia anti-nuclear project

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