Thursday, September 08, 2005

Russia to build the world's first floating nuclear power plant

RIA Novosti - Opinion & analysis - Russia to build the world's first floating nuclear power plant

08/ 09/ 2005

MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti commentator Tatiana Sinitsyna). The Federal Nuclear Energy Agency has made a decision to build a low capacity floating nuclear power plant (FNPP).

The plant will produce roughly 1/150th of the power produced by a standard Russian NPP (using a VVER-1000 water-cooled reactor). Construction could begin in 2006.

The mini-station will be located in the White Sea, off the coast of the town of Severodvinsk (in the Arkhangelsk region in northern Russia). It will be moored near the Sevmash plant, which is the main facility of the State Nuclear Shipbuilding Center. The FNPP will be equipped with two power units using KLT-40S reactors. The plant will meet all of Sevmash's energy requirements for just 5 or 6 cents per kilowatt. If necessary, the plant will also be able to supply heat and desalinate seawater.

"If conditions are favorable, the floating plant could be operational in four to five years' time," said Yevgeny Kuzin, general director of the public joint-stock company Malaya Energetika. By "conditions" Kuzin, who is the project leader, means funding. The nuclear "baby" will cost about $200,000. Kuzin says that it will be hard to secure the necessary money. Russian businessmen have become used to making quick returns on their investments, and few are prepared to wait for long-term returns. Yet there are still some businessmen who break the mold and are aware of the benefits of taking a longer-term perspective.

And the concept of the FNPP is very promising. Small FNPPs would be a blessing for the Russian regions adjoining the Arctic Ocean. These areas lack centralized energy supplies, and a FNPP would be an independent source of energy. It is specifically this feature of the Russian technological innovation that is attracting attention abroad; Indonesia, Malaysia, and China have all shown interest in the project. The plant off the coast of Severodvinsk will therefore also act as a prototype that can be seen by potential foreign customers.

What is involved in a FNPP project? First of all, a site for the floating power unit has to be selected in coastal waters, not far from the recipient of the power supply (be it a town, village or enterprise). The unit, which is powered by two reactors and accommodates engineering and amenity services, is then towed out to this site by a tug. The unit should be supported by compact onshore infrastructure - transformers, pumps, heat supply units, etc. Then the plant is commissioned. It will have the capacity to supply energy to a town with a population of 200,000. If the entire capacity of the plant is switched over to desalinization, it will be able to produce 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water a day.

Talk of a new nuclear facility is always greeted with a degree of skepticism. But the designers of the plant say that the technological principles underlying the project have been proven during the 30 years that Russia's civilian nuclear-powered ice-breaking fleet has operated on the Northern Sea Route. Kuzin says these vessels have shown themselves to be highly reliable and that they do not have any kind of radioactive impact on the environment. "When the plant is decommissioned and pulled out, it leaves absolutely no pollution," he said.

Potential terrorist threats were also taken into account when designing the plant's security system. The latest scientific and technological advances in this field have been incorporated to prevent unauthorized access to fissile materials aboard the plant. Among other things, fingerprint and iris identification technologies will be used. The plant will also be protected against possible subversive attempts by terrorist divers. Much thought has been given to protecting the plant from external factors. For example, if an airliner, even one as big as a Boeing, were to fall on the plant, there is no way it would destroy the reactor.

Does Russia plan to sell this floating nuclear plant to other countries? "Of course not," Kuzin said. "Russia will only sell its products - electric power, heat and fresh water. This means that there is no cause for concern with respect to the proliferation of nuclear technologies. A floating plant under the Russian flag would be taken up to the coasts of states that had signed the necessary agreements. It would drop anchor in a convenient place that was protected from potential natural disasters and contact local engineering services on the shore. Then it would start up its reactors and - let there be light!"

The plant will save up to 200,000 metric tons of coal and 100,000 tons of fuel oil a year. It will be fully supported by the infrastructure of the Russian nuclear industry, and will be serviced by rotating teams. The reactors will be loaded with nuclear fuel once every three years and will have a lifespan of 40 years. Every 12 years the plant will be sent home and overhauled.

Critics of the new Russian nuclear plant say that in the event of a natural disaster it would be insufficiently protected and could cause an environmental crisis. But the site for the station would be chosen with great care on the basis of thorough monitoring and bearing certain rules in mind. No one is going to place the plant in an exposed location.


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