ST. PETERSBURG - Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom has taken its order for the building of a floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) from the Sevmash shipyard in Northwest Russia near Severodvinsk and transferred it to the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, Rosatom officials said.
FNPPs have figured heavily of late in Russian government announcements about what sources of energy will be needed to tap the oil and gas rich Shtokman Field off the coast of Northern Russia. So far, a new reactor will be built at the aging and ailing Kola Nuclear Power Plant, and employing FNPPs at the Arctic underwater oil gas bonanza has been discussed by Russian gas giant Gazprom.
The completion of at least one FNPP – an energy source that has been roundly condemned by environmentalists, and a notion that was dropped by the US nuclear industry as being too dangerous – is essential for Gazprom to push forward with plans to use the questionable technology in its Arctic gas drilling efforts.
Environmentalists have said that building an FNPP reactor at the Baltic Ship Yard – which is in the middle of a densely populated central area less than a kilometer from the Winter Palace and St. Issac’s Square – could be environmentally dangerous to city residents.
The reason for the switch of venue is has not been fully explained, but Rosatom officials confirmed that the order was recalled by the government from Sevmash and transferred to the Baltic Shipyard.
The official reason given by Rosatom was that, “the decision was predicated on a significant load at the (Sevmash) facility, and the necessity to keeps its efforts focused on state defence contracts.”
But other sources within Rosatom who spoke privately with Bellona Web said that the change of venue for the controversial FNPP construction was based on skyrocketing costs at Sevmash and the shipyard’s backlog of late orders.
In the coming days, Rosatom will sign a contract with the Baltic Shipyard, and negotiations are still ongoing. According to Rosatom, it is premature to discuss cost and deadlines for the project publicly. Current discussions, said officials, are focused on what precisely will be ordered in the contract.
“We can say that the Baltic Shipyard is ready to fulfill such an order,” said a Baltic Shipyard official in an interview. “We have the necessary construction space, all the necessary equipment, and we have the licenses to take the order.”
However, many specialists see dangers for the local environment n St. Petersburg in the plans Rosatom is firming up.
Alexander Nikitin, head of Bellona’s St. Petersburg office, the Environment and Rights Centre, said, “Assembling and launching a nuclear reactor is a dangerous operation, which normative documents classify as ‘potential nuclear hazard. Conducting such experiments in the middle of a city of 5 million is not rational.”
Green Cross’s director for nuclear and radiation safety programmes, Vladimir Kuznetsov, said the construction of the FNPP itself was not especially worrying for St. Petersburg.
“The construction itself of a floating nuclear power plant is just a general ship building project entailing welding and painting,” he said.
“The dangerous issues relate to the actual launch of the reactor installation. Where the FNPP will be put to sea is presently unknown. This will either happen in St. Petersburg, or more likely Severodvinsk, for which city the FNPP is being built,” said Kuznetsov.
Press service officials at the Baltic Shipyard said that, “all measures of environmental safety during the construction of the FNPP will be taken.”
“Russia in general and the Baltic Shipyard specifically have years of experience of work with nuclear installations. And our factory got its feet wet with nuclear icebreakers, so there is no need to worry about the health of St. Petersburgers,” the press service said.
The contract for the completion of the FNPP– to be called the Akademik Lomonosov – as it stood at Sevmash was to 2010. The cost was $200 million, 80 percent of which was to be 80 percent financed by Rosenergoatom, Russia’s nuclear utility, and 20 percent from Sevmash’s budget. The FNPP was scheduled to go on line in 2011.
Renata Goroshkova reported from St. Petersburg, and Charles Digges translated and edited from Oslo.