Nuclear fuel loading begins at Russia’s floating power plant

The “Akademik Lomonosov” floating nuclear power plant in the port of Murmansk, on May 19th. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant will be thoroughly tested before towing to the north Siberian port of Pevek.

Loading fuel to a floating nuclear power plant is not like fueling the oil tanks on any merchant vessels. Placing the nuclear fuel roads, filled with uranium pellets, is a comprehensive job.

Last week, Rostekhnadzor, Russia’s nuclear watchdog, approved the work to start. The floating nuclear power plant, named “Akademik Lomonosov” is moored at Atomflot, the service base for the fleet of nuclear powered icebreakers in the Kola Bay on the coast of the Barents Sea.

Originally, plans were to fuel the reactors at the shipyard in St. Petersburg where “Akademik Lomonosov” was built, but Rosatom last year agreed with Norway’s Foreign Ministry to wait with the reactor testing till after the plant had been towed around the coast of Norway. The Norwegians were afraid of potential leakages of radioactivity in its coastal waters in case of troubles during the towing.

Also Greenpeace and the political party Yabloko protested testing of the plant in St. Petersburg, arguing any wrongdoings could cause radiation harm to the five million inhabitants in the city. Instead, reactor testing will now take place in Murmansk, Russia’s largest Arctic port.

The power plant was towed from St. Petersburg to Murmansk in May.

Locals pay no heed

Locals in Murmansk are not too worried. No media articles have voiced anyone’s concern. In Murmansk, people are used to nuclear activities, the city is home to the world’s only fleet of civilian nuclear powered vessels and is neighboring several of the military Northern Fleet’s bases with nuclear powered submarines and battlecruiser. Highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is regularly transported straight through the city center by rail.

“As for the safety of potentially nuclear hazardous work, loading the nuclear fuel, to the floating nuclear power plant, this can be compared with similar work on the Vaigach, Taimyr and Severmorput nuclear powered ships,” says Andrey Zolotkov, a local representative of the Bellona Foundation, an environmental group working with nuclear safety issues.

The reactors on board “Akademik Lomonosov” are similar in design to the reactors powering the nuclear powered icebreakers.

Andrey Zolotkov is nuclear and radiation safety expert with Bellona Murmansk. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Zolotkov tells that such loadings of nuclear fuel rods to the icebreakers have been carried out a dozen times at Atomflot service base without any problems.

“Do not forget that the floating nuclear power plant has attracted a lot of attention so any potentially nuclear dangerous work will be carried out with increased control,” Andrey Zolotkov says to the Barents Observer.

Reactors to be tested by end of year

This week, the uranium fuel will be loaded to the first reactor, then to be followed by the second. “Today, the specialists have started one of the most important tasks – the gradual loading of nuclear fuel into the reactor units, starting with No 1, and then No. 2,” says Vitaly Trutnev, Head of the Directorate on Construction and Operation of the floating nuclear power plant in a prepared statement posted on the agency’s portal.

Trutnev says the testing of the reactors will start by the end of this year.

“The next stages that are to be implemented by the end of the year will be the physical launch of the reactors and the beginning of complex mooring tests; we’ll start to implement them after obtaining the relevant Rostekhnadzor permits.”

Rosenergoatom assures testing in Murmansk will be safe.

“Atomflot base possesses all the necessary infrastructure, specialists and competencies both for loading the nuclear fuel and for physically launching the reactors,” says Dmitriy Alekseenko, Deputy Head of the Directorate on Construction and Operation of the floating nuclear power plant.

The “Akademik Lomonosov” will power the town of Pevek, in the east-Russian Arctic, pictured here in 2008. (Brian Tibbets/Wikimedia Commons)

After reactor testing, the plan is to tow the plant across the Barents Sea and further east along the Northern Sea Route to the port of Pevek next spring.

The two KLT-40S reactor units can generate up to 70 MW of electric energy additional to providing thermal heating to the town of Pevek.

As previously reported by the Barents Observer, “Akademik Lomonosov” is the first of a series of different maritime reactors to power Russia’s Arctic development in the years to come.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Indigenous community in Northern Canada to offset diesel with solar panels, CBC News

China: China opens bids for its first nuclear-powered icebreaker, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: Nuclear plant construction in North Finland goes ahead despite lack of permit, Yle News

Norway: The quest to turn Norway’s Arctic coast into Northern Europe’s wind power hub, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Northwestern Russia’s oldest reactor to run for another 15 years, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Environmentalists praise ruling on nuclear waste site in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: US Gov preparing for oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Public Media

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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