Rosatom hopes to market small-scale nuclear power plants to foreign customers, reports say

akademik_lomonosov_baltic_shipyard Installation of the Akademik Lomonosov's nuclear reactors. Credit: Baltic Shipyard

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation says it is pushing forward in developing small-scale reactors, a move that would expand the company’s portfolio of portable nuclear power devices, worrying environmentalists.

The reactor, called a RITM 200, is already being put to use on three of Russia’s newline nuclear icebreakers – the Sibir, the Ural and the Arktika – but the new tweaks would essentially make them the centerpiece of small land-based nuclear power plants, according to reports in RIA Novosti, a semi-official newswire.

Rosatom has long touted the notion of building small-scale nuclear reactors for use in remote locations as well as in developing economies that are struggling with their own energy demands.

The Akademik Lomonosov, Rosatom’s biggest experiment in portable nuclear plants yet, is basically two RITM 200 reactors fused to a barge, which can then be towed to any locale with a harbor and the electrical infrastructure to handle it. It is, at the moment, the only such plant in the world.

After the floating plant is fueled in Murmansk, it will be put to use in the port of Pevek, in Chukotka, on Siberia’s Northeastern coast in 2019. But that’s just for starters: Rosatom has touted the Akademik Lomonosov as a potential foreign offering, and though demand for it is hardly overwhelming, the government of Sudan is open to buying one.

Now Rosatom is reportedly looking to market the RITM-200 reactors without the barge attached.

According to RIA Novosti, the company’s overseas division is exploring offering the reactor, coupled with a steam turbine, as an easy-to-assemble modular package for use on land.

At present, all of this is still theoretical. OKBM Afrikantov, Rosatom’s design subsidiary, is still hashing out the particulars of the 50-megawatt offering, as well as what sort of options the portable reactor would ship with – such as desalination and heating functions.

But, as reported by RIA Novosti, Rosatom is anxious to stump for its use in a variety of environments – from far flung settlements and industrial towns to mining and oil drilling operations located far from civilization.

Officials with Rosatom’s foreign marketing division, who spoke with the newswire, said the target geography for the small-scale reactors would be Southeast Asia and the African continent, both places where the company has fortified its presence in recent years.

But Rosatom’s experience with portable nuclear power projects has been spotty.

It was only recently that Russia, with millions of dollars in foreign aid, was able to clean up hundreds of nuclear battery units, called RTGs, that had laid scattered and forgotten since Soviet times.

RTGs, or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, were in their time also touted as an ideal solution to the energy crunch faced by far flung industrial and security installations. But when the Soviet Union fell, records of their locations were lost, and the units were neglected.

Thieves pillaged them for their valuable metal, exposing their strontium innards. Hikers and shepherds, drawn to their atomic heat, would stagger out of the woods with radiation poisoning.

While small nuclear reactors might not present exactly the same problems, it’s nonetheless certain that some of Rosatom’s potential customers are years from having the kind of infrastructure they would need to handle nuclear reactors.

Meanwhile, Jordan has apparently expressed interest in cooperating on small reactor projects with Rosatom, though the country last June torpedoed a deal for a traditional nuclear plant that Russia had hoped to build there

Charles Digges

charles@bellona.no