Russia’s Atomflot inks deal to build world’s largest nuclear icebreaker

frontpageingressimage_atomflot.jpeg Photo: Foto: Alexander Raube

The new ship seems to be another expensive assertion of Russia’s self-proclaimed primacy over the Arctic Sea basin and its efforts to control not only oil and gas reserved there – by military force if need be – but even transport through the region, which, if it increases could cause an intolerable burden on the fragile Arctic ecosystem.  

The vessel – which has yet to be named – will be built by St. Petersburg Baltisky Zavod shipyard beginning in 2013, and will, according to Russian news reports, have the capability of breaking through ice more than 4 meters thick through out the year, as well as quickly navigating ice fields of more than 2.5 meters thick at a speed of 1.5 to 2 knots.   

The displacement of the new vessel will be about 33,540 tonnes and it will have a draught of between 8.5 and 10.5 metres, World Nuclear News reported, and accommodate a crew of 75.

It will also be 170 meters long, 34 meters wide – some 14 metres longer and 4 meters wider than the 50 Years Victory’s, currently the world’s largest nuclear icebreaker and one of five Russia operates in the Arctic area.

The displacement of the new vessel will be about 33,540 tonnes. It will have a draught of between 8.5 and 10.5 metres. Atomflot refers to the vessel as being ‘universal’ as it can be used both in the open sea and on rivers

Official sources have said they expect the ship to begin ice trials starting in November 2017.

“This icebreaker will clear the way for other vessels in Russia’s Arctic as well as guide them along the Yenisei and Ob rivers,” Atomflot told Izvestia, an official state newspaper.

According to official sources at Atomflot, Rosatom, the official contractor, confirmed Baltisky Zavod as the shipbuilder for constructing the new-generation icebreaker in an open tender on Thursday, August 23.

Baltisky Zavod was also reportedly the only company to submit a bid, the Barents Observer reported.

The estimated cost for the icebreaker, according to Russia Today, the Kremlin funding English-language news organization, will run about $1.1 billion.

“The estimated cost will include construction work, special retrofits at the shipyard etc. But the most expensive part of the icebreaker is the RITM-200 reactor and various pieces of know–how” Aleksey Kravchenko from OSK ship Building Corporation told Izvestia.

“By the time we get to serial production we will be able to lower the cost by 30 percent” he added.

The vessel will be fitted with two RITM-200 pressurized water reactors to power a three-shaft propulsion arrangement, WNN reported.

The same design is foreseen as being incorporated in floating nuclear power plants. The reactor would operate on fuel enriched to less than 20 percent uranium-235 and require refueling every seven years over a 40-year lifespan, said WNN.

Russia is the only country in the world that is currently building atomic icebreakers and analysts have opined that the new construction push is a part of Moscow’s efforts to assert control over the Arctic basin.

The open tender for building the ship was announced relative to a 2012 Russian Government decree on earmarking budgetary funding for the so-called “leading universal atomic icebreaker.”

Deadlines and financing

According to the conditions of the contract, Baltisky Zavod is to deliver the lead vessel in the series, the LK-60YA in ready to operate status by December 30, 2017, and deliver it to the Atomflot base in Murmansk. As per the construction schedule, the keel will be laid by November 2013 and the hull will be launched by 2015.

Russia’s Duma in 2011 cleared in its second reading a budget for the construction of three nuclear icebreakers, which earmarks a 20 billion rouble ($630.5 million) disbursement before 2014 toward their construction.

In all, plans include building one lead double-hull icebreaker and to serial atomic icebreakers for operations both in the Arctic basin and the shallower Siberian rivers, Vyacheslav Ruksha, Atomflot’s general director, told Bellona.

“We expect all three icebreakers will be built by no later than 2027,” he said.

Speaking of the necessity of a new flagship icebreaker last year, Ruksha said that, “the cost of a leading icebreaker is estimated at 37 billion roubles ($1.1 billion) by today’s prices.” He said then that the keel laying for the new vessel would take place during the first quarter of 2012. Ruksha’s comments were nearly spot on.

The St. Petersburg-based Iceberg Central Construction Bureau (in Russian) worked out the initial blueprints for the vessel in 2009. The ship will be powered by he new integrated RITM-200 type reactor.

According to Bellona analysis, the RITM-200 will be able to navigate rivers and estuaries as well as the shipping routes of the Northern Sea Route.

Anticipated service and maintenance problems

The new icebreaker will demand new types of equipment for maintenance.

“Because the new icebreaker will be bigger and heavier, [Atomflot] will need a new floating dock with large dimensions and capacity,” said Ruksha said. “And to service the reactor, we will require new refueling equipment.”

Ruksha said that without such new equipment, Atomflot would not be able to load nuclear fuel into the reactor of the new vessel.

“This means that as soon as construction of the new vessel is complete, a new refueling system will also have to be prepared – that is to say a floating base,” said Ruksha. “As soon as we take the vessel for use, we have to be prepared to dock it at any moment, so our company will need the corresponding dock” that is equal to this purpose.

Igor Kudrik, an expert on Russian nuclear vessels said that, “the fact that the management of Atomflot has thought about infrastructure for the new vessel beforehand is a good sign.”

Anna Kireeva

anna@bellona.ru