“Nuclear Titanic” nears Norway

Controversial Russian floating nuclear power plant passes through Norwegian coastal waters

Akademik Lomonosov

Photo: © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace
Greenpeace protests the Akademik Lomonosov, following it through Norwegian waters.

Atle Staalesen
The Independent Barents Observer

The Akademik Lomonosov has been followed closely by Nordic authorities as it is towed across the Baltic Sea, through the Danish straits, and into Norwegian waters. Three support ships are involved in the unique operation, which started in St. Petersburg on April 28.

By May 3, the floating installation had made it south of Sjælland, the Danish island, and by May 9 it was off the west coast of Norway between Bergen and Ålesund. The towing has a speed of up to 4.5 knots, states nuclear power company Rosatom.

The Akademik Lomonosov cannot be tracked by GPS. But the tugs and support vessels Spasatel Karaev, Umka, and Yasnyy can.

Followed by Norwegians
The power plant is not charged with nuclear fuel, and the voyage towards Murmansk is considered without any major environmental risk. But the Akademik Lomonosov is a highly controversial project and perceived by neighboring countries with a high level of skepticism.

Director for Maritime Safety in the Norwegian Coastal Administration Arve Dimmen confirms to the Barents Observer that the voyage is being closely watched by Norwegian authorities.

“This is the first time that such a facility is being towed along the coast of Norway, and the Coastal Administration will follow it closely,” he underlines in an email.

“The Coastal Administration’s surveillance aircraft will follow the vessels, and Norwegian support ships will be stationed along the route to be able to mobilize on short notice.”

Dimmen confirms that normal procedures will apply if the floating power plant needs shelter because of bad weather or an emergency situation. The Vardø Traffic Center will provide the Akademik Lomonosov with guidance in such a situation.

He says that the Russians have stated that there are no people on board the installation during the towing.

Environmental concern
Environmental groups also have their eyes on the Akademik Lomonosov. Greenpeace vessel Beluga-II is sailing just few hundred yards away from the Russian ships.

Speaking from aboard the Beluga II, Jan Haverkamp, a nuclear expert for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, said: “This power plant basically moves the threat of a nuclear catastrophe into fragile Arctic waters. With its flat-bottomed hull and lack of self-propulsion, it’s like balancing a nuclear power plant on a wooden palette and setting it adrift in some of the world’s roughest waters.”

Russia’s nuclear power company Rosatom originally wanted to load nuclear fuel on board the power plant before towing it to Murmansk. However, after strong reactions from the Nordic countries, Rosatom decided to postpone the loading until the vessel’s arrival.

It was former Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende who in June 2017 announced that he had persuaded the Russians to postpone the installment of the fuel.

To Pevek in summer 2019
The towing is expected to last about three weeks. In Murmansk, the Akademik Lomonosov will be moored at the Atomflot base, along with icebreakers and other nuclear-powered vessels. After a year of testing, the power plant will be towed along the Russian Arctic coast to Pevek where it will be permanently based.

According to Rosatom, the State Marine Rescue Service is responsible for the towing operations, both from St. Petersburg to Murmansk and from Murmansk to Pevek. Loading of nuclear fuel is planned to take place in the fall of this year. After testing in the Kola Bay, the installation is to be towed to Pevek in the course of June 2019.

The Akademik Lomonosov has been under construction for more than 12 years. The building originally started at the Sevmash yard in Severodvinsk back in 2006. The hull was moved to the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg in 2009, because the yard by the White Sea changed focus to concentrate on building warships and submarines. In 2011, the floating nuclear power plant became central in the bankruptcy proceedings against the Baltic Shipyard.

With some improvements, the reactor of the KLT-40s type is similar to the reactors on board Russia’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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