Russia ponders a floating nuclear plant for India

Akademik Lomonosov at sea The Akademik Lomonosov, Russia's floating nuclear power plant, at sea off the coast of Norway. Credit: Nils Bøhmer/Bellona

Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear corporation, has publicly expressed interest in jointly developing a floating nuclear power plant with India, alongside other small and medium sized reactors, The Times of India has reported.

Nikita Mazein, vice president of Rusatom Overseas, Rosatom’s international branch, told a nuclear conference in New Delhi earlier this month that remote coastal areas of South Asia could be served by small-scale reactors like the ones Rosatom is currently developing, as well as by a floating nuclear plant.

“In Russia, we have commissioned the first floating nuclear power plant and it will become operational this year,” he told the conference, according to the Times of India, referring to the Akademik Lomonosov, which has been deployed to remote Northwestern Siberia.

“For those countries that don’t have significant demand system capacity to absorb large scale power units, a similar solution with 50 to 100 megawatt units can be useful,” Mazein added.

Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov was towed from Murmansk to the port of Pevek, in Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska in September – a move that has intrigued the world and worryed environmentalists.

fnpp_control_room A photo of the Akademik Lomonosov's control room released by Rosenergoatom, showing the components still wrapped in factory plastic. Credit: Rosatom

The 140-meter floating plant, which was more than a decade in the making, is equipped with two KLT-40 reactors that provide a combined 70 megawatts of power. The operational staff of about 70 can also make use of the plant’s gym, swimming pool and bar.

Rosatom has estimated that the Akademik Lomonosov can power a city of 100,000 residents. Pevek’s population, however, is a mere 4,700, so the bulk of the plant’s electricity will power local mining operations and offshore oil drilling rigs. It can operate for 12 years before it needs to be refueled.

The company has billed the plant, which is the only one of its kind currently operating in the world, as a prototype for future floating plants, though has admitted that the cost of the Akademik Lomomosov was prohibitive for serial production.

While the cost of the floating plant has been estimated at $480 million, Rosatom has not disclosed official numbers.

Still, Rosatom has sought to advance the technology among a handful of its foreign customers, notably the politically embattled Sudan, with which it signed an agreement to pursue a floating nuclear plant for possible deployment on the Red Sea.

Environmentalists say that building floating nuclear plants is is a gamble. Greenpeace has dubbed the Akademik Lomonosov as a “nuclear Titanic.” Bellona has opposed the construction of plant since the beginning, publishing a detailed catalogue of its concerns in a report it released in 2011.

What’s particularly worrying is how the plant would cope with a major inundation from a tsunami or other hard-to-predict nautical event. Rosatom, however, insists the plant is “virtually unsinkable” and can withstand blows from icebergs and wave up to seven meters high.

Rosatom is the main equipment supplier for India’s Kundakulam Nuclear Power Plant, which runs four Russian-designed VVER-1000 reactors. Aside from the smaller-scale and floating reactors, Mazein told the New Delhi conference that Rosatom would consider building another large scale, six-reactor nuclear power plant in India.