Gazprom pushes for more nuke power to develop Shtokman oil and gas reserve

Russland vil forlenge driftstiden for de to eldste og farligste atomreaktorene ved Kola Atomkraftverk med minimum 10 år. Foto: Thomas Nilsen
Foto: Thomas Nilsen

Publish date: April 4, 2008

Written by: Charles Digges

Russia’s aging Kola Nuclear Power Plant, which is already limping along with two reactors that have run out their engineered life spans, is negotiating with Gazprom over building two more reactor units to supply more power for developing the underwater Arctic Shtokman oil and gas reserve.

The new talks add to concerns of environmentalists who are both concerned about the development of the field in general – which is thought to hold 3.8 trillion cubic metres of oil and gas – and compound ecological concerns about the increasingly vocal conversations among the field’s foreign and domestic partners about including the use of nuclear power to drill the gas and oil.

Yevgeny Sharov, a highly placed official with Rosenergoatom, Russia’s state nuclear reactor building monopoly, confirmed yesterday that the new reactor project has been tabled to produce an additional 2.5 gigawatts of power to bring drilling in the delicate Arctic online.

Sharov told the Russian news site that Gazprom has been in talks with the Kola Nuclear Power Plant since February. Sharov said the initial stages of opening the Shtokman field slated for 2014 would be powered by steam gas turbines.

Gazprom, said Sharov, would continue to use the gas turbine approach for peak power spikes, but that the new reactors planned for the Kola Nuclear Power Plant would be the fundamental workhorse for powering the operations at the field, which is thought to be one of the world’s largest untapped oil and gas reserves.

bodytextimage_floating.jpeg Photo: Rosatom

Nuclear reactors at land and sea
The new revelations that Russia’s nuclear industry is uniting with the nuclear sector to power the colossal efforts of drilling the undersea oil field located some 300 kilometers north of Russia’s Arctic coast come in the wake of an international conference where several western countries, including Norway, threw their support behind using floating nuclear power plants to help develop the field.

Gazprom is mulling the idea, but is reluctant to finance it without significant foreign partnership – which it may have in Norway. The Russian oil giant says that three floating nuclear power stations have been ordered from the Sevmash shipyard near Arkangelsk.

“The concept of underwater atomic stations has potential for autonomous energy supplies for underwater oil and gas fields at low capital investment and is worth further investigation,” said Petter Birkeland, director of production for Norway’s JP Kenny Norge AS at a February conference on international efforts to develop the Shtokman field.

Birkeland said Russia must make a significant contribution to the design of such underwater reactors, which are envisioned to be 50 to 100 megawatts, much like the reactor installations aboard nuclear icebreakers.

Norway’s petroleum giant Statoil is one of the foreign companies that has been hand picked by Gazprom to get a stake in the Shtokman field.

Ecologist, citizens protest nuclear development

Many environmentalists say Russia should close down the whole Kola Nuclear Power Plant, as the development of the Shtokman field will produce more than enough power for the region.

Indeed, the Murmansk Regional Administration and Gazprom have confirmed that 5 percent of the natural gas haul from the field will be earmarked for the region, the Barents Observer reported.

But many more environmentalists and citizens alike say that the gas power augmentation to come as a result of drilling the field is ultimately beside the point. Their fears lie with the nuclear power build-up that Gazprom seems to require to drill it.

In recent polls contracted by the Russian environmental organisations Bellona Murmansk, Nature and Youth, and Ecodefence, 71 percent of those surveyed were opposed to building floating nuclear power plants to drill oil in the Shtokman field.

Further, 85 percent of Murmansk area residents polled in and earlier survey said they were against the engineering life span extensions granted to two aged VVER-440 reactors at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant. A full 87 percent said they were against any new nuclear construction in the area.

The Romir polling agency was contracted to conduct the survey.

“Romir’s research confirms what Nature and Youth has been talking about for years: that nuclear power plants are unpopular, dangerous, and economically unjustified,” said Nature and Youth’s Vitaly Servetnik.

“We insist that any project of the nuclear industry in the Murmansk Region not be realised without a popular referendum. This also concerns the life extension plans for the two old reactors at the Kola nuclear power plant, which are now working beyond their engineered life expectancy.”

Servetnik added that protests had already been mounted against the construction of floating nuclear power plants in Murmansk Arkangelsk.

Bellona’s objections
Bellona, too, opposes floating nuclear power plants, warning that such stations present a dramatically heightened risk of radioactive contamination of the sea and costal areas in the Russian Arctic.

Further, waste that would accrue during the life span of any one of these plants would remain on board.

Bellona also points out that the engineers of the project do not explain how a nuclear power station lacking in a service infrastructure will deal with routine and more serious radioactively hazardous situations, the results of which could pose even more unpredictable consequences when the particulars of the climatic and natural conditions of the Arctic seas are taken into account.

Anatoly Lebedev, a state-honoured Russian ecologist and Bellona correspondent, was candid in his response to the notion of building floating nuclear power plants, calling it “a bad, stupid, dangerous idea.”