Europe-Asia Arctic route loaded at one-tenth of capacity

Nuclear-powered container ship Sevmorput. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Rosatom engages the world’s only civilian nuclear-powered cargo vessels for yet another year on voyages between St. Petersburg and Petropavlovsk, but the transportation needs seem to be well below expectations.

For the fourth year in a row, Russia’s nuclear corporation Rosatom subsidizes voyages between St. Petersburg and the Far East and back in a push to attract cargo flow along the Northern Sea Route.

The “Sevmorput”, a 35 years old container carrier powered by a single nuclear reactor, left St. Petersburg this weekend and is Tuesday sailing Skagerak en route north around Scandinavia. Final destination is Petropavlovsk, but before that the ice-strengthened ship will have to make its way through Arctic waters north of Siberia.

Onboard are 111 containers with goods. Not any overload taking into account that “Sevmorput” has a capacity to carry 1324 standard shipping containers. On the deck is also some 40 tons of metal constructions.

As there is no economic logic in sailing such a long-distance Arctic voyage with a nuclear-powered ship loaded with to only one-tenth of its capacity, the shipping is subsidized by the Ministry for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic.

Second voyage in September 

Rosatomflot informs that two back-and-fourth voyages are included in the subsidized sailings for 2022. The return from the Far East and back to Europe, this time Murmansk, is scheduled for July 17.

A second voyage will take place in September, said Leonid Irlitsa, acting director of Rosatomflot.

“We hope that cargo owners will be active and take advantage of preferential delivery terms,” Irlitsa said. He adds that “tariffs are transparent and as attractive as possible.”

The acting director upholds that the long-term goal is to open a regular container route along the Northern Sea Route.

Goal of four voyages per season

The “Sevmorput” first time sailed the Northern Sea Route with commercial cargo, mainly fish products, from Kamchatka to St. Petersburg in 2019. In 2020, the state-owned shipping company said the goal was to have four voyages per season. Last year’s season was cut short as the giant vessel spent half a year in dock after an unsuccessful attempt to sail cargo to Antarctica, a voyage that had to return after serious propeller trouble in the South Atlantic.

Commissioned in 1988, the “Sevmorput“ is powered by one reactor of the KLT-40 type, similar to the reactor onboard the icebreakers “Taymyr“ and “Vaygach”.

After a 2015 upgrade and safety evaluation, the reactor’s service life was prolonged with 150,000 hours aimed at keeping the vessel in operation until 2024.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canadian icebreaker project estimated at $7.25 billion, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark/Greenland: New guideline launched for Arctic-specific risk assessment in shipping, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland’s aging icebreaker fleet needs modernization, Yle News

Iceland: Int’l Arctic emergency marine exercise will lead to better response coordination, say participants, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia outlines militarization of fishing fleet and icebreakers, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: ‘Uber for icebreakers’ idea gains traction in U.S. Senate, 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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