Russia again switches venues for floating nuclear power plant builds

The Akademik Lomonosov. (Photo: Baltic Shipyard)

Publish date: November 28, 2011

Written by: Charles Digges

In yet another change of venue for the building of Russia’s floating nuclear power plants, Rosenergoatom and St. Petersburg’s giant Kirov Factory have signed a memorandum of cooperation regarding the construction the plants, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

The new agreement represents the third time Rosenergoatom – the nuclear power plant operating wing of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear state corporation – has switched venues for the building of its floating nuclear power plants to new companies. The switches have not been without controversy.

The signing of the agreement between the Kirov Factory’s general manager George Semenenko and Sergei Zavyalov,  Rosenergoatom’s head of directorate for construction of floating nuclear power plants took place on November 24, Interfax reported.

Under the new agreement between Rosenergoatom and the Kirov Factory – famous for building T-34 tanks during World War II – seven floating nuclear power plants will be constructed at the factory under a state agreement Zavyalov told Interfax.

The Kirov Factory and Rosenergoatom reached a preliminary agreement during discussions that stated that production facilities and port infrastructure would be set up at the Kirov Factory site during 2012 in order that that it be ready to take orders by 2013.

Investment costs for this are expected to total about RUB 350 million ($11 million), World Nuclear News, the news website of the London-based World Nuclear Association, reported.

The new plants are expected by 2020, said Zavyalov, with a second one – after the embattled Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant is finished – coming as early as 2012.

Bankruptcy difficulties ensnare Akademik Lomonosov

The Akademik Lomonsov – which is intended to supply nuclear power in Russia’s tsunami-prone far east Kamchatka Peninsula –  became entangled in a lawsuit against its builder, the Baltiisky Shipyard, when, in August, the International Industrial Bank, which owned a 90 percent share in the shipyard, collapsed.

The Akademik Lomononosov was then the subject of dispute between Rosenergoatom and the bank’s creditors as the ship was impounded to ensure payment of the debt. The International Industrial Bank further claimed it had not received all payments for the vessel from Baltiisky Shipyard.

Rosenergoatom insisted that the Akademik Lomonosov was the nuclear company’s property, and not the shipyard’s, and convinced the Court of Arbitration of St. Petersburg to take temporary possession of the ship in mid-August. As a result, the Lomomsov’s launch date has been pushed back by as many as 20 months, said Zavyalov.

Zavyalov told Interfax that the financing for the Akademik Lomonosov project had now been restored, and revealed that the cost of building the floating nuclear power plant was 16 billion rubles ($525 million) in 2010 units, but that costs were expected to fall in future units.

He revealed that the cost of building Akademik Lomonosov was approximately RUB 16 billion ($525 million) in 2010 amounts, but costs were expected to fall for subsequent units.

The Kirov factory will now be the third company Rosatom has tapped to help it envision its floating nuclear plant projects – something environmentalists have decried as extremely dangerous.

Third factory change for floating nuclear power plants

In each instance that building of floating nuclear power plants has been moved, shady finances or looming bankruptcy for the builder has been a factor.

Prior to the mishaps with the Baltiisky Shipyard, the first contractor for the Akademik Lomonosov was the Sevmash Shipyard in the far northern town of Severodvinsk.

The shipyard was commissioned in 2006 by Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko to build seven floating nuclear power plants – the number of vessels that Kiriyenko himself has stated is the number required to make floating nuclear power plants profitable. Even that, however is questionable: The expected international crowd-crush for floating nuclear power plants has not materialized.

In 2008, Rosatom took the building of the Akademik Lomonsov out of Sevmash’s hands, alleging that the shipbuilding yard was diverting money meant for the floating nuclear plant to military projects and saying that Sevmash was falling far behind schedule. Baliisky Shipyard was then contracted to finish the building of the Akademik Lomonosov.