Nuclear icebreakers for the next century

Publish date: March 16, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russia forecasts a next generation of nuclear-powered icebreakers: but funding is suspect

"I believe that the time has come to begin planning and building nuclear icebreakers for the 21st century," Sergey Frank, the Russian Transport Minister told ITAR-TASS. Frank and Russian Nuclear minister, Yevgeny Adamov, visited the home port of the nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet at Murmansk on March 4th to discuss the future of the fleet.

Russia has built eight nuclear-powered icebreakers and one nuclear powered container ship, and all they’re all stationed in Kola Bay at the Atomflot service base; two kilometres north of Murmansk. The ships are state property, but they’re operated by the joint stock Murmansk Shipping Company. Last year, Lukoil, Russia’s second largest oil company, bought a controlling share of MSCo.

Frank thinks his ministry, together with the Ministries of Economics and Nuclear Energy, should draft a resolution to expand the nuclear icebreaker fleet in the next century.

Official estimates place the cost of building a new-generation nuclear-powered icebreaker at $350 million. The Marine Fleet Scientific Research Institute and The Iceberg Company, both based in St. Petersburg, have drafted a design for a new icebreaker. The designers assumed a new icebreaker would operate in both open sea and the shallow waters of Yenisey River estuary in western Siberia.

Fleet projections suggest Russia will need four new icebreakers. But any new federal budget would likely only cover 50 per cent of the funds needed. The rest might come from private investors if oil field exploration at Yamal-Pechora in western Siberia gets started.

Cargo shipments in the Arctic, the other justification for an expanded fleet, have dropped by a factor of 4 in the past nine years. In 1996, just 2,050,000 tons were transported. Three to four million annual tons are required to justify the investment. Lukoil said it might consider investing in nuclear-powered icebreakers, but no concrete steps have been taken so far.

Russia is building one Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreaker at Baltic shipyard in St. Petersburg Construction of the vessel, 50 Years of Victory, was launched in 1993. Her completion still requires $100 million.

Frank said construction of a new nuclear icebreaker could take eight years. In 15 years, all Russian nuclear icebreakers, except the Yamal, will be pulled out of service. No ministry has yet to draw up a project description for a next generation icebreaker.

Fleet notes

The first nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Lenin, was pulled out of service in 1989. The Sibir, built in 1977, has been moored in Murmansk harbour for the past two years and will likely never see service again. Arktika is overworked and has exceeded her 100,000-hour tour of duty by 40,000 hours. Despite her age, she’ll stay in service a further 10,000 hours or another 12 months. The Sevmorput has waited two years to be refuelled. The newest icebreaker, Yamal, has fresh fuel for only one of her two reactors and has been inactive for a year. Sovetsky Souz, Rossiya, Taimyr, and Vaigach – are currently employed in the Arctic.

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