Floating NPP will be safer


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - "This plant has several layers of protection, which means that it will be much safer than its land equivalents," said Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, speaking at a ceremony of laying down the world's first floating nuclear power plant (FNPP).

The plant will be built at the Sevmash shipyard, the core of the Russian Center for Nuclear Shipbuilding, in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Region.

To add weight to his words, the head of the agency cited the sad tragedy of the nuclear submarine "Kursk," which sank in the Barents Sea in 2000. A powerful explosion de-energized the ship and filled it with water. But the nuclear reactor withstood the shock and shut down automatically, obeying the command of its safety system. After the submarine was raised, specialists found an intact nuclear reactor ready to operate.

There is really hardly a test more devastating and convincing than exposure to an extreme situation. Such power units, which have years of service on warships and ice-breakers, will be used on floating nuclear power plants.

The first such plant will be named "Akademik Lomonosov" after the famed Russian scholar and scientist Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765). Its construction is scheduled to be completed by 2010. The vessel will drop anchor in the White Sea, close to Sevmash. The plant will supply power for Sevmash's production and municipal needs.

The project is estimated at $200 million, but it will recoup itself in seven years with an expected service life of 38 years. This one, Kiriyenko said, is a pilot project. Later on, such plants will be less expensive and quicker to build, the construction period taking only three years. The new plant looks like a miniature of its land cousin, and is about 1/15th as powerful. The 70 MW plant will power the infrastructure of Sevmash, which has invested $20 million in the project, and sell one fifth of the electricity elsewhere.

FNPPs have attractive prospects. They are the dream of power-hungry regions and large industrial enterprises that require an uninterrupted power supply when no centralized source is available. Built on a shipbuilding yard, a floating plant is towed by water to its operation site. By 2015, Russia plans to build seven FNPPs for its domestic needs. Priority sites are Chukotka, Kamchatka, Yakutia and Taimyr, in the Far East of the country and in Siberia.

It is the transportability of the new Russian technological wonder and its ability to feel at home in any coastal area that is attracting the attention of other countries - maritime and island-based. According to the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, 12 countries have already expressed interest, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and China. The plant to be built in Severodvinsk will also serve as a working model to be visited and examined by potential exporters.

What is its principle of operation? A site suitable for mooring is chosen in coastal waters, near the client to be supplied with electricity (town, village, industrial facility). Then the power unit arrives, towed by a tug. It mounts two reactors and has working and accommodation space. A minimum of infrastructure is established beforehand on the shore, complete with transformer units, pumps, etc. The plant is capable of supplying the power needs of a city with a population of 200,000. When converted to sea water distillation, it can produce 240,000 cubic meters of drinking water daily. The FNPP saves up to 200,000 tons of coal or 100,000 tons of fuel oil a year. The infrastructure of the Russian nuclear complex backs up its life cycle in full.

Any description of a nuclear facility is taken with a grain of salt. The critics of the project, for example, say that it can damage the environment in case of a natural disaster. But the site is picked up following close monitoring, observing fixed rules - no one is going to anchor the plant in a place with a high risk of tsunamis. "There will be no floating Chernobyl," Kiriyenko assured. "The guarantee is the tremendous expertise built up by the Russian nuclear ice-breaking fleet with its 7,000 reactor-years."

Plant designers say the philosophy incorporated in the design points to high dependability and freedom from radioactive effects on the environment. When the plant weighs anchor to sail elsewhere, it leaves the place absolutely unpolluted.

A terrorist threat has also been taken care of. The latest scientific and technological devices have been employed to stop unauthorized access to fissile materials aboard the vessel. Staff are identified by fingerprints and retinal analysis. The system is also protected against underwater sabotage. Rigid safeguards exist against external physical threats. A hypothetical aircraft falling on the vessel would have no chance of breaking the reactor unit.

It is important to keep in mind that Russia will be selling only the plant's output - electricity - not the vessel itself. This settles all issues connected with the spread of nuclear technologies. A floating nuclear power plant flying the Russian flag is towed to a country that has signed the contract, drops anchor in a suitable place and gets in touch with local engineering services ashore. Then the reactors are switched on, and the customer is supplied with electricity.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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