Boom at Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet slowed by building delays

arktika A mock up of the Arktika leading ships through icy waters. (Picture: Atomflot)

The number of convoys led by icebreakers through Russia’s Northern Sea route is up. A major icebreaker was sent for decommissioning, and radioactive waste was sent for storage has been cleaned out. Tugboats and ships are on the way. In short, business at Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear icebreaker port, is booming.

All of it is apparently progressing without any environmental side effects, according to a year-end review conducted by the company itself. Last year, Atomflot launched 410 vessels, equaling 5.2 million new tons of steel on the Arctic, up from 195 vessels in 2015.

Mustafa Kashka, Atomflot’s chief engineer, said that the port had for the first time shipped out its radioactive waste for storage and interment, saying the company was now working to not build up radioactive waste and spent fuel onsite.

Over the course of last year, the company sent 52 containers of radioactive waste to Radon storage facility in Sergeyev Posad region.

Atomflot also took steps toward the first dismantlement of a nuclear icebreaker ever, the Sibir, a project expected to begin at the Nerpa Shipyard north of Murmansk. It will be funded by a government program for nuclear and radiation safety. The project will provide a blueprint for future nuclear icebreaker dismantlement.

sibir The Sibir at the Atomflot port. (Photo: Anna Kireeva)

Kashka said the Sibir’s reactor would be removed this year and radioactive waste from the dismantlement procedures would get packed up for shipment to storage toward the end of November this year.

Atomflot last year signed contracts to build two icebreaking tugboats for liquefied natural gas projects on the Yamal Peninsula. The contract will further provide for port services and another two tugboats and a non-nuclear icebreaker for harbor use.

The icebreaking tugs were completed ahead of schedule in May, and the remaining vessels are expected by November of 2018.

Should the tugboat construction stick to schedule, it could revise the construction timetables for Russia’s enormous new icebreaker, the Arktika, whose launch was pushed back from 2017 to 2019 last year.

“The United Shipbuilding Corporation might not be able to complete new icebreakers if it doesn’t stop breaking with deadlines for other new vessels,” said Vyacheslav Ruksha, Atomflot’s general director, at a shipbuilding industry gathering.

He cited one icebreaker that is supposed to be launched by 2027, and predicted that if builders fell behind and failed to produce eight new icebreakers for Atomflot, the consequences for Russia’s oil drive in the Arctic might be lost.

Ruksha told the shipbuilders’ gathering that he thought their delays in getting new line icebreakers out the door resulted from the huge number of contractors involved in their construction.

In December, for instance, the Arktika was about 40 percent complete. In September, its two 175-megawatt reactors were installed.

At the meeting with Ruksha was United Shipbuilding Corporation Vice President Yevgeny Zagorodny, who admitted that the company was falling off schedule. But he blamed a total collapse of shipbuilding orders in the 1990s, which he said impacted the industrial production chain to this day.

He said he hoped all new icebreakers would appear on schedule, and that the company would “mobilize” to produce them over the course of the next 13 years.

As earlier, the new deadline for the Arktika was said at the gathering to be 2019. Following that, the Ural and Yamal new line icebreakers would be launched in 2020 and 2012, said Zagorodny. This means the launch of both these vessels has been pushed back by a year.

All three new line icebreakers are geared for clearing ice for convoys hauling ores, gas and oil around the Yamal and Gydansk Peninsulas along the Northern Sea Route across northern Russia. The icebreakers are designed not only to sail at sea but along river tributaries to the polar seas.

The newest icebreaker operating out of Atomflot is the 50 Let Pobedy, which launched in 2007.

Anna Kireeva

anna@bellona.ru