A Russian floating nuclear plant?

A Russian floating nuclear plant?

Summary: Two Russian companies plan to build the world's first floating nuclear power plant to deliver cheap electricity to northern territories. The construction should start next year for a deployment in 2010. The huge barge will be home for two 60-megawatt nuclear reactors which will work until 2050... if everything works fine.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

In 'A Floating Chernobyl?,' Popular Science reports that two Russian companies plan to build the world's first floating nuclear power plant to deliver cheap electricity to northern territories. The construction should start next year for a deployment in 2010. The huge barge will be home for two 60-megawatt nuclear reactors which will work until 2050... if everything works fine. It looks like a frightening idea, don't you think? Read more...

Here are some details provided by Popular Science.

The Russian nuclear-energy company Rosenergoatom is planning a mobile plant to deliver electricity to hard-to-reach northern territories near the White Sea, where harsh weather makes regular coal and oil fuel deliveries unreliable and expensive. The $200-million floating plant -- slated for construction next year -- could provide relatively inexpensive, reliable electricity to 200,000 people.

In fact, the state-owned nuclear power monopoly Rosenergoatom will team with the Sevmash shipyard in the Arctic port of Severodvinsk to build this floating nuclear power plant.

But how will it look like? The image of this floating nuclear plant provided by Popular Science is really neat, but other sources show that this barge will maybe not look as nice. Here is a first example shown by euroarctic.com in "Controversial nuclear plant under construction" (March 14, 2006) and by MosNews.com in "First Contract to Build Floating Nuclear Power Plant Signed in Russia" (June 14, 2006).

Russian floating nuclear plant (image #1)

You also can read the first paragraph of an article of POWER Magazine published in August 2006, "Russia's new nuclear navy." Below is a digital artist's conception of this world's first floating nuclear power plant. (Credit: Sevmash)

Russian floating nuclear plant (image #2)

Let's now return to Popular Science for more facts about this project.

The Russian plan is to mount two reactors on a football-field-size barge, float it to a port, connect power lines to the mainland, and turn on the reactors, providing communities with affordable electricity.
The plant will store waste and spent fuel in an onboard facility that workers will empty every 10 to 12 years during regular maintenance overhauls. After 40 years, the normal life span for a nuclear plant, the decommissioned plant would be towed away and replaced with a new one.

Of course, this might work as forecasted. But the risks are very high. For example, such a floating plant could spill waste into the White Sea. But even more frightening, what will happen if the nuclear reactors melt into the water? Well, we'll see a radioactive steam explosion. And I wouldn't like to be close to such an explosion...

For more information, you also should read a long paper available on the Green Cross Switzerland website, "Floating Nuclear Power Plants in Russia" (PDF format, 85 pages, 0.99 MB), published in 2004.

Sources: Bjorn Carey, Popular Science, October 2006; and various websites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • Wow...

    Even my Russian wife thinks this is a bad idea...

    When you consider how many oil tankers we (and others) have screwed up...devestating shore lines and such...

    Yeah...this is death waiting to happen.
    • Death waiting to happen?

      And that, my friends, is nuclear hysteria at it's finest.

      50 people died in Chernobyl. 50. More people die each year in coal
      mining accidents.

      But hysteria knows neither logic nor reason, only fear. And so we
      continue to burn oil and coal like fools.
      • Your numbers are flawed but not the logic

        I am afraid I have to disagree with you on the Chernobyl number, which is a bit low. 56 people, mostly liquidators, as they were called, died from thermal burns, radiation exposure, etc. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that among the original liquidators the death toll now stands at around 219 from delayed effects of exposure. Many children in the area were exposed to radioactive Iodine-131, which has led to an increase in the case rate of thyroid cancer. BTW, I am a certified Radiation Protection Technologist with 30 years of experience, so I'm not pulling these numbers out of the ether. I also operated nuclear propulsion plants in the US Navy. So what's my point? I would have no reservations at all if a US company wanted to build a nuclear facility, but knowing Russias dismal safety record of their civil and military nuclear programs, I would have to give pause to that thought.
        • Numbers

          The WHO numbers I saw said 50 dead from cancer. The estimate
          was 4000. It may not have included those killed from the initial

          Compare that to the 2500 Indians killed a few years back when a
          coal fired power plant exploded.
    • RE: A Russian floating nuclear plant?

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  • No different from Nuclear Subs.

    We have nuclear submarines and nuclear aircraft carriers - and the Russians have several nuclear ice-breakers.

    The US Nimitz class Aircraft carriers carry 194MWatt nuclear reactors.

    Russian Arktika ice breakers carry two reactors of 171MWatts each.

    Compared to that, a couple of 60MWatt reactors on a barge is *nothing*. It's been suggested that the two reactors they are using came from decomissioned Russian submarines anyway...so we're probably better off having them used for peaceful purposes anyway.
    • Agree

      Yeah, have to agree - not really much different from a nuclear powered vessel. This is mostly a scare story.
  • Cool

    I say "cool," but maybe I should say, "Oh, no."

  • Good for the goose?

    So this is new?
    Ever heard of the United States Navy?
    And if you think they can do it better than the Russians - contemplate the USS Thresher.
    Alan Henderson
    • Better? I think so.

      I'd say the Thresher is actually a good example of doing it better than the Russians. The USS Thresher, SSN-593 was a fast attack nuclear submarine that suffered a fatal flooding casualty. The submarine, and all on board were lost. The Thresher was the first of a new class (design) of fast attack subs, and was lost on her sea trials. Following the loss, the class was renamed the Permit class, after the next boat in line. The submarine that I served on, the USS Jack, SSN-605, was a Permit class submarine.

      A few observations worth noting... The loss of the Thresher was not a reactor plant failure. The reactor shutdown properly. Nobody was exposed to a radiation release, and environmental impact was minimal. There was probably more 'damage' to the environment from whatever diesel fuel was on board, and nuclear subs carry far less of that than the diesel boats did.

      Following the loss of the Thresher in 1963, the Navy embarked upon an upgrade program based upon the lessons learned. Existing subs were retro-fitted with the improvements, and new designs incorporated them as well. The hasn't been another loss of that type since. (The USS Scorpian casualty was something else entirely).
      I'd say the U.S. Navy has had a pretty good nuclear record in the ensuing 43 years.

      Operating a warship hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean is a dangerous business. Fortunately, the Russian nuclear plant barge won't have to contend with many of those challenges.
      • Right on Brother!

        Enough said...
    • You were obviously NOT in the Navy

      If you were, you would have known that the Thresher (and the Scorpion, another sub) sank. It had NOTHING to do with the reactor or propulsion plant, which are still considered intact on both vessels, which are still monitored for any leakage by the Navy. So there, I'm done contemplating.
      • Perhaps you should re-read my post.

        1. I believe I clearly indicated that both submarines were lost. It's pretty hard to 'lose' a submarine, with all on board, in any other manner than sinking. Other casualties, such as fire or weapons damage could certainly contribute to such a loss, but unless the submarine sinks, the ship or least some of the crew generally survive.

        2. I did not indicate that either loss was related to the *reactor*.

        3. You are incorrect. The Thresher's flooding casualty has been attributed to the failure of an Auxiliary Sea Water valve, where the hull is penetrated. The ASW valve in question is most certainly part of the *propulsion plant*. It's failure resulted in flooding in the Auxiliary Machinery Space, which is the compartment between the Reactor Compartment and the Engine Room... That flooding started off a chain of events that led to the reactor scramming, and propulsion being lost. The casualty was compounded by the failure of the attempt to do an emergency blow of the ballast tanks. It is believed that moisture in the tanks caused the lines to freeze (reference "adiabatic expansion"). The loss of propulsion, combined with the inability to blow the ballast tanks made the Thresher unable to overcome the steadily increasing weight of the flooding. The Thresher sank to the bottom, imploding somewhere below test depth.
        • THIS is the message I responed to...

          "So this is new?
          Ever heard of the United States Navy?
          And if you think they can do it better than the Russians - contemplate the USS Thresher."

          NOT yours
          • Ugh...

            Ahh, so you did. I apologize. I misread the tree representation. D'oh!
  • The devil is in the details

    Interesting idea. As an ex-Navy Reactor Operator, it doesn't automatically send me into a tizzy. Experience has shown that water-borne reactor platforms *can* be safe and secure. Of course, the devil is in the details. Warships are typically built to more rigorous standards than others, and ones that are equipped with reactors even more so. One has to wonder just how far a Russian commercial entity is willing to go in that direction... On the plus side, they certainly don't want to lose their investment, and I'm sure they don't wish to inflict another Chernobyl upon their country. The logical design choice for water-borne reactors is a PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor). Chernobyl was not a PWR, using a light water, graphite moderated design that is not nearly as inherently safe as a PWR is. It still comes down to how a plant is operated and maintained, but a PWR is a lot more forgiving of human error.

    Time will tell.
    • Thought I was being original

      I 'floated' this idea last year not realising it was old news. I saw it as a way of coping with rising sea-levels resulting from Climate Change and of avoiding the huge remediation costs of traditional on-shore nuc power plants which undermine their economic viability. But it is true that the Russians don't have a great history of designing/implementing fail-safe systems.
      Kev Baylis
  • Floating Nuclear Power nothing new

    I was in the US Navy Nuclear Power program for 8 years in the 70's and 80's. I was a propulsion plant operator aboard a nuclear powered cruiser that housed 2 150 megawatt reactors. The Navy has never had a nuclear accident since the inception of the nuclear program in the early 50's (The Thresher and Scorpion submarine incidents involved sinking of the vessels but no apparent damage to the reactor system). If this were a US venture, I would have no reservations, but knowing the Russian track record of nuclear safety (and we in the military knew much more than the public), I think this could be a recipe for disaster. If they really want to pursue this they should consult with US designers to ensure the safest system is built. I doubt that will ever happen though, as much of the military design work is highly classified.
    • The real experts on Nuclear power plants

      I would suggest the the Russians go to France, which has one of the largest nuclear power generation bases in the world, and apparently never even hand a reportable incident. They might be more amenable to consulting with the French, anyway.
  • Getting time to undo anti-"nuke" hysteria anyway

    It's getting time to undo the "No Nukes" hysteria anyway. That hysteria belonged back with Tom Petty and Jackson Brown back in the 1970's, anyway. It's forty years old, back with disco, 8 track tapes, and the Nixon administration.

    The basic deal is that a pound of uranium gives off a million times more energy than a pound of coal, or any other chemical fuel. We are fools not to tap this energy source. We also have a lot of U-235 and plutonium laying around doing nothing as the result of the Bush-Putin treaty cutting back weapons to 2200 each, so we have all this fuel just waiting to be burned.

    While the United States hasn't had a reactor start in decades, other countries have. France, as mentioned, gets a large percentage of its energy from nuclear power.

    The United States was the first to develop a nuclear reactor to give off power. Hyman Rickover of the US Navy was involved here, making a safe reactor that would physically fit inside a U.S. nuclear submarine. He was a genius for doing this with technology of the 1950's. The reactors we tend to have *tend* to be based off that design: light water with carbon moderators, e.g., that first generation.

    Here in Colorado we tried a next generation design, an HTGR, which had great thermal efficiency and was cooled with helium, but because it was the first, a number of irritating, tiny bugs kept shutting it down. Finally it was shut down for good.

    Reactor technology has moved on, however. Folks at General Atomic and other places are up to third and fourth generation reactors. These reactors are **incredibly** safe. If you get a warning light, you can go to lunch with your co-workers and think about what might be wrong. No more hurried decisions. Certainly nothing likw that idiot Jane Fonda movie, "The China Syndrome". If you can't figure out what's wrong over lunch, go home and sleep on it. The reactor will wait. It's designed hypersafe.

    Some designs, like the good old General Atomics TRIGA, just shut down if they get too warm. The TRIGA came out in the early 1960's and is a popular research reactor everywhere. No one bothers protesting against the TRIGA.

    It would be a smart idea to devote some time and funding to fixing our electrical power grid and to some large nuclear power plants. Make them all designed the exact same way, as the French did. (Right now all of ours are different, and they're very expensive). Estabishing a very safe home for the fuel rods, once used, would just be smart, and move the old fuel rods from the various active sites there. Yucca Mountain, NV is tempting because the place is pretty hopelessly contaminated for anything else. I would say standardizing on about 1000 Megawatt, or 1 TeraWatt, would go good, unless there are consistent problems finding enough water for the area.

    If necessary bypass the EPA because this truly is a national security problem; losing our power grid is way too third-world-country for me and it keeps happenings. Frankly, the EPA has turned into an agency whose agenda is screwing growth and projects up. The projects that this country is the proudest of could not have happened with the EPA in place whining and suing.

    Right now the whole "greenhouse gasses" debate is going on. The debate has hit a new low in nastiness with some calling for "Nuremburg-style trials for those who disagree with 'global warming'".

    Nuclear power gives off no greenhouse gasses. Zero nada zip. You can sure tell how un-stated political the "global warming" agenda is by simply saying, "Well, you must be for nuclear power, then, if you're at all serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions." It's all very nice to talk about battery powered cars and so forth, but the coal and natural gas powered power plants that make the electricity to charge those batteries give off CO-2.

    No one has said *anything* about getting rid of India's cows, which are big in the religious world there, or retrofitting them with catalytic converters. However, cow (errrr, how do I put this nicely) ... emissions ... are a huge source of "greenhouse gasses". If you don't think so, a visit to a local farm will convince your nose.

    Thanks for reading this; this got larger than I planned.

    Thanks, Dave