Russia Floats Plan for Nuclear Power Plants at Sea
From National Geographic
By Patrick J. Kiger
Back in the early 1970s, U.S. utility companies, frustrated with growing public unease about nuclear power that made it difficult for them to find sites for new plants, came up with a wild brainstorm. Why not put full-sized nuclear power plants on barges and position them offshore, where they wouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard, unless you counted fish?
The scheme never took off, according to a recent article by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian Thomas Wellock. Financing proved to be as challenging at sea as on land. Coastal communities were just as strongly opposed to neighboring nuclear plants as their inland counterparts. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which was then known as the General Accounting Office, raised worries about what would happen to the ocean ecosystem in the event of a meltdown. (See related, “Quiz: What Do You Know About Nuclear Power.”)
But now, on the other side of the world, the idea of seaborne nuke plants is being refloated.
Russian state-controlled energy company Rosatom is moving ahead with plans to build the Akademik Lomonosov, a ship that would contain a pair of small nuclear reactors capable of generating up to 70 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to provide a city of 200,000 people with electricity as well as heat and desalinated water for drinking. Rt.com, an English-language Russian news website, has reported that the Russian company envisions the craft, which is scheduled for completion in late 2016, as the harbinger of a new breed of small, portable, ship-based power plants that it might manufacture and export to other countries.
But it is clear that a major impetus behind the effort to develop modular, portable, nuclear power at sea is Russia’s own drive for oil and gas exploration in remote reaches of the Arctic.
Melting sea ice has opened the prospect of greater access to the Arctic’s riches, including 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas, according to a U.S. Geological Survey estimate. Sixty percent of that fuel is in the Russian Arctic, home to four of the ten largest natural gas fields in the world.
But one of the great ironies of the industry is that it will take energy to extract that energy.
The challenge of powering an energy-extraction infrastructure in Russia’s Far East is great enough that momentum continues to propel the floating nuclear effort forward, despite a boatload of financing problems and delays.
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