1) Floating nuclear power
stations raise spectre
of Chernobyl at sea
Source ADIT (The
Times, april 17, p33)
Tony Halpin in Moscow
Russia has begun to build the world's first
floating nuclear power plant despite warnings from environmentalists that
it risks creating a disaster.
The £100 million vessel,
the Lomonosov, is the first of seven plants that Moscow says will bring
vital energy resources to remote Russian regions as well as potential foreign
markets. It will house two 35MW reactors capable of supplying a city of
200.000 people when it starts operations, in three years' time.
Environmental groups and nuclear
experts fear that floating plants will be more vulnerable to accidents
and terrorism than land-based stations. They point to a history of naval
and nuclear accidents in Russia and the former Soviet Union, most notoriously
at Chernobyl in 1986.
Nils Boehmer, an expert on
Russia's nuclear industry at Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group,
said that floating power plants “raised a lot of new questions because
this kind of facility has never been used in the world before”.
“There is so little infrastructure
in these remote areas that it will be very difficult to control the plants
if something goes wrong. It will also be difficult to maintain a full cohort
of engineers,” he told The Times.
“There will be a risk of
hijack and terrorist attack because it is much harder to secure floating
facilities. The security services in Russia have done exercises on nuclear-powered
ice-breakers and found that it is very easy to take control of them.”
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of
the Russian atomic energy agency, insisted that the project was safe and
pointed to the disaster on board the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000 as
The Kursk sank in the Barents
Sea in 2000 with the loss of all 118 crew after a torpedo exploded on board.
The floating power plants will house reactors similar to those used in
the Russian submarine fleet. “The most reliable test of such a reactor
was the Kursk tragedy. After the boat was raised, specialists proved that
the reactor could be put into service at that very moment,” Mr Kiriyenko
The Sevmash plant, which will
produce the floating power plants, is the largest shipbuilding complex
in Russia, employing more than 25.000 people. Most of its contracts have
been for nuclear submarines.
The first vessel will be towed
to a bay off the northern White Sea port of Severodvinsk in 2010
to supply electricity to nearby defence facilities. The far-eastern regions
of Kamchatka and Chukotka, which are governed by Roman Abramovich, the
owner of Chelsea Football Club, are in line for other vessels.
The atomic energy agency said
that at least 12 countries were also interested in buying floating nuclear
plants. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria and Argentina have all been
mentioned as potential buyers.
Vladimir Kuznetsov, a former
head of the Russian nuclear inspectorate, co-authored a report on floating
nuclear plants that concluded that they were “inherently unsafe”.
He told The Times yesterday that there was a danger of enriched
uranium, the essential component of a nuclear bomb, ending up in the wrong
“There is a clear danger
of nuclear proliferation if these plants are sold to other countries. There
is also a very high risk of terrorist attack,” he said.
| The floating plants are backed
by President Putin as part of a programme to raise the proportion of Russian
electricity generation from nuclear power from 17% to 25%. They can operate
for up to 15 years without refuelling and have an expected working life
of 40 years before being towed back to the production yard for decommissioning.
The United States toyed briefly
with building floating nuclear plants along its eastern seaboard in the
1970s. The Westinghouse Electric Company even built a huge dry-dock in
Jacksonville, Florida, to produce and launch the units.
But energy conservation measures
after the 1973 oil shock made the project less attractive economically,
and the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 turned the public mood against
Russia has revived the idea
as a solution to the problems of energy supply in its sparsely populated
regions. The floating unit generates a small fraction of the power of a
standard Russian land-based nuclear power plant. Russian authorities argue
that their long experience of operating nuclearpowered ships shows that
the technology is safe.
Once towed into position off
the coast, the vessel will be linked to the onshore grid to supply heat
and light to the local population.
Experts say that it can also
operate as a desalination plant, producing up to 240.000m3 of
fresh water a day from the sea.
The Sevmash plant is expected
to sell 20% of its electricity to private consumers in the energy-hungry
east of Russia, which often experiences power shortages in winter, when
temperatures regularly plunge to -40°C.
Floating nuclear power
"If Mohammed won't
come to the mountain – the mountain must go to Mohammed". That is what
you, more or less, can say about the newest initiative from Russia – to
build floating nuclear power plants on barges.
The aim of the floating
power plants is to ensure that desolated spots of the country that can
be difficult to supply with power, energy and fuel, can get their energy
directly from ships in a harbour nearby. In the spring 2006, the Russian
government signed a contract with a ship yard that is to build a prototype.
The prototype will cost more than 1 billion DKK and is expected to be ready
in 2010. The interest in the Russian design is already great.
"The new about supplying
desolated regions is – apart from the obvious reasons – is that local nuclear
wastes are not an issue. After the 10-15 years the reactors' fuel lasts,
the ship will be removed and the area will not be contaminated", says
head of programme Bent Lauritzen and continues "Nuclear power at boats
have existed for many years e.g. at icebreakers. This type of energy makes
it easier for the ships to make longer journeys without having to be concerned
about fuel. The Russians have many years of experience with this type of
The plan is to place
two 150 MW reactor units onboard the ships, which amounts to a tenth of
a normal reactor unit. So we are dealing with reasonably small units. On
shore a power station is to be build to distribute the power.
You can read more about
floating nuclear power, nuclear terror emergency and the new initiatives
in nuclear power in the report: http://www.risoe.dk/rispubl/reports/ris-r-1604.pdf
(the report is in Danish).
If you have questions, you are welcome to contact
Bent Lauritzen at telephone +45 46 77 49 06 or by email bent.lauritzen