In the collective imagination, since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, a Russian nuclear power plant has always been scary. A feeling that the recent and global success of the series "Chernobyl" has not dissipated, while the Russian floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov, a world first, is preparing to begin, August 23, a trip of 5 000 kilometers of a duration of a month and a half.
Its final destination is in eastern Siberia. Precisely in the city of Pevek, a city of 5,000 people in the Chukotka Autonomous District, 350 km north of the Arctic Circle, where the floating plant must replace two others, the nuclear one in Bilibino, and the other thermal, in Chaunskaya, from December 2019
Dubbed "Chernobyl on ice" by its detractors, this plant, built from 2006 by the Russian nuclear conglomerate Rosatom in St. Petersburg, was loaded with nuclear fuel in the port of Murmansk, in the north-west of Russia.
The floating infrastructure, which is 144 meters long and 30 wide, is based on a barge without engine and towed by ships. Within it, there are two KLT-40S reactors with a capacity of 35 MW each (against more than 1,000 MW for a conventional French power station), powerful enough to supply electricity to a city of 100,000 inhabitants.
"The floating nuclear power plants will allow to supply electricity and heat to the most remote regions, thus supporting growth and sustainable development," says Rosatom, which covers the entire Russian nuclear chain, the extraction of uranium to the treatment of waste through the construction of power plants. The Lomonosov Akademik will also be used to fuel oil rigs in this area, where Russia wants to develop Arctic oil production and extraction, made possible by melting ice.
According to the federal conglomerate, the Akademik Lomonosov, which has undergone a battery of tests, is "invincible". It "has the most modern security systems [...] and should be one of the safest nuclear installations in the world" able to withstand tsunamis and other natural disasters.
A flagship project or a "Nuclear Titanic" ?
The Akademik Lomonosov is a flagship project with major challenges. It offers a global showcase for Rosatom, the main rival of the French multinational group Areva, this new type of plant potentially being of interest to many countries.
The conglomerate already exports its technology to more than thirty nations, from China to Egypt, via Hungary or Turkey. "The plant can be delivered anywhere, along a coast, and connected to existing power grids," says Rosatom, while Sudan has signed in 2018 an action plan for the preparation of a Preliminary feasibility study for a floating nuclear power plant project.
However, despite Russian assurances, environmental NGOs warn of a "nuclear Titanic".
"A floating power plant will be particularly exposed to meteorological phenomena [the barge having a flat bottom and having no internal propulsion, Editor's note] and to threats such as terrorism.Image that the barge is detached from the towing vessels, the consequences can to be serious, "Rashid Alimov of the Greenpeace Energy Department recently warned.
The NGO explains that the installation of the floating plant in the harsh environment of the Russian Arctic will pose a constant threat to northerners and the pristine nature of the region.
The worst nuclear accident in history took place in 1986 in the USSR, during a security test in the Ukrainian Chernobyl plant. The Soviet authorities were then accused of trying to hide the scale of the disaster for several weeks as a radioactive cloud had crossed Europe.
More recently, a deadly explosion occurred on August 8 on a Russian missile launch base in the Far North. After a few days of silence, Moscow finally admitted that the accident related to the "new weapons" tests had a nuclear character, after the level of radiation had increased briefly following the accident.
Rosatom, which has a dozen reactors under construction worldwide, announced in a statement that five members of its staff had been killed in the blast, adding that three other burn victims had been injured.