Lukoil goes nuclear

Publish date: December 1, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Russia's second largest oil company, Lukoil, has bought Murmansk Shipping Company, and is today in charge of the operation of the nuclear powered icebreakers. The intention is to use the nuclear icebreakers in oil and gas exploration in the eastern Barents Sea.

MURMANSK/OSLO (Bellona Web): Murmansk Shipping Company (MSC) operates seven nuclear powered icebreakers and one nuclear powered container vessel. In addition, MSC has several cargo and supply ships for the oil industry in the Russian Arctic.

"We have the best vessels in the north, including the most powerful icebreakers in the world," says newly appointed director of MSC, Vyacheslav Ruksha. He underlines the importance of keeping the civilian nuclear fleet operational for the expanding oil and gas industry in the Russian Arctic oceans. The eastern Barents Sea, the Petchora Sea and the Kara Sea is ice-covered for six months a year, and the use of nuclear powered icebreakers will help Lukoil significantly during drilling operations.

Despite the exceptional cold conditions in the Russian Arctic waters, which has lead to thick ice in early November, only three of the nuclear powered icebreakers are currently in operation. These are the Sovietsky Soyuz, the Taimyr and the Arctica. The rest is laid up at the icebreakers’ service base RTP Atomflot in Murmansk. This is mainly due to economical reasons. MSC cannot afford to buy new uranium fuel for the reactors, and there is a shortfall in the funding for maintenance.

MSC has also refused to use more than one icebreaker for the transportation of nickel and ore from the Norilsk Combines’ port in Dudinka at the Yenitsey River. Norilsk has not been able to pay MSC for its icebreaker services.