| Amid protests from
Russia's environmental community, St. Petersburg's Baltiisky shipyard hosted
the launch ceremony of a floating nuclear power plant called the Akademik
Lomonosov on Wednesday.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the state atomic
agency Rosatom, said that floating nuclear power stations "open a new
era and create new prospects for modernizing the power energy infrastructure
of some of the more distant and isolated regions of Russia."
| The plant's projected operating life is almost
Environmentalists have questioned the rosy safety picture being drawn by the project's ideologists, and argue that the floating nuclear power plant is a risky enterprise.
Experts from the Green Cross environmental group say that a floating nuclear power station is a potentially vulnerable target for terrorists, who could carry out an underwater attack on the plant. Ecologists also believe that long-distance voyages made by nuclear plants in the open seas increase the risk of accidents and subsequent radioactive leaks.
Other concerns are related to the storage safety of the nuclear waste, which is to be kept at the plant until its facilities fill up, and then moved to in-land reprocessing and storage centers.
Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace's energy project in Russia, said that in the event of an accident, nuclear pollution would spread across dozens of hectares of land.
Critics also point to Russia's discouraging history of nuclear disasters, from the Chernobyl catastrophe to the sinking of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk.
|ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday
took a big step toward the controversial creation of the world's first
floating nuclear power station, putting a barge that will house the plant
into the water.
Environmentalists say Russia's plan to dot its northern coastline with floating nuclear power plants is risky.
The head of Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, said the plant would be "absolutely safe" and predicted "big interest from foreign customers."
Nearly a quarter-century after the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster in Soviet Ukraine, Russia is planning to expand its own network of nuclear power plants and pursuing deals to build more abroad.
The vessel housing the plant, which Kiriyenko said should be ready to operate late in 2012, was launched at the Baltiisky shipyard in Russia's Imperial-era capital on the Baltic Sea.
Kiriyenko said nuclear fuel for the plant would be loaded later in the Murmansk region, further north, and the station towed to its place of operation. It would be hauled away after 32 years of service, he said, leaving the surrounding area "the same as before the station arrives."
|Environmentalists are not convinced.
"The danger begins when the reactor is installed and nuclear fuel put there," said Vladimir Chuprov, Greenpeace Russia's energy projects chief.
"If something goes wrong ... it could mean the nuclearisation of several dozen hectares of land at a minimum and tens of thousands of people evacuated from the polluted area," he said.
Critics also warily recall Soviet-era nuclear accidents and Russia's naval disasters such as the loss of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea after explosions on board, killing all 118 crew.
Kiriyenko said the floating plant, called the Academician Lomonosov, would have the capacity to produce 80 megawatts of electricity. He said at least six potential sites for such plants have been chosen in northern Russia.
|By ANDREW E. KRAMER
A Russian-made nuclear-powered Alfa class submarine, which could go 45 m.p.h. underwater.
MOSCOW — When the Soviet Union introduced its Alfa class submarine
— at the time, the world's fastest — the subs were the bane of American
sailors. Now, the reactors that powered those submarines are being marketed
as the next innovation in green power.
Small reactors have other advantages, too. They would fit the existing steam-generating equipment in old coal plants, for instance, making it easier to put nuclear facilities in current coal-burning energy plants. And small reactors have at least one nonproliferation benefit over their larger cousins: they can be loaded with fuel in the factory, reducing the need to ship fuel separately.
Some models are tiny. One, for example, would be small enough to fit into a shipping container and would be trucked from site to site, like a diesel generator, except that it would need to be refueled only once every seven years or so.
Proponents point out that Russian nuclear regulators and the United States Department of Energy have both endorsed small reactors. In America, companies with designs include Westinghouse, the maker of traditional reactors; Babcock & Wilcox, a maker of submarine reactors for the Navy; and NuScale, a start-up that spun out of an Oregon State University research project.
The Russian company, Akme, is an acronym for atomic complex for small and medium energy and sometimes renders its name in English as Acme.
Akme's goal is to produce a prototype of a 100-megawatt nuclear reactor small enough to fit into a typical American backyard by 2019.
The company was founded in December as a joint venture of Rosatom, the state nuclear power corporation, and a private electricity company owned by the Kremlin-connected oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska. It has $500 million in start-up capital.
A minireactor will likely cost about $100 million.
The design Akme chose is peculiar because it is cooled with a molten lead alloy, not water. In fact, the Soviet Union was the only nation to deploy liquid metal reactors at sea. Introduced in the 1970s, they packed enough power to propel submarines more than 45 miles per hour underwater. In fact, they were so powerful they compelled NATO to design an entirely new class of torpedo.
But this cold war design is not without its drawbacks. The Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental group and authority on nuclear waste in the Arctic, says the lead alloy coolant tended to freeze when the reactor had to be shut down in emergencies. That turned the reactor into an inaccessible block of lead, steel and waste.
The group documented an accidental freezing of the core on one submarine, K-123, in the early 1980s after an emergency shutdown in the Kara Sea. The vessel limped back to base. The only way to repair it, though, was to remove the reactor segment, a job that took nine years. (The former Russian naval captain working for Bellona who revealed these and other details of reactor failures in a report in the 1990s was put on trial for revealing state secrets.)
Today, hardened liquid-metal reactor cores litter the Arctic. While small, they still weigh hundreds of tons. No facility exists to melt out the lead alloy, which is itself lethally toxic, and extract the spent fuel rods. They remain an unsolved legacy of the Soviet submarine program; several are stored at a naval yard in Gremikha, on the Arctic Sea near Norway, according to Bellona.
The product can hardly be called green, Igor Kudrik, a researcher at Bellona, said in a telephone interview.
The Russian nuclear industry, in its eagerness to capitalize on the booming global demand for nuclear power, including new applications like small reactors, has dusted off unsafe designs, Mr. Kudrik said. “They haven't come up with anything new,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Akme said the company could not comment on military waste. Company officials said the commercial design would have to compete on safety, as well as economics, and that passive safety features would be built into the product. Anna Kudryavtseva, a vice president, said the nonmilitary version of the liquid-metal reactor would be “maximally safe even in not very capable hands.”