Floating nuclear power plant gets new "birthplace"


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - In a couple of years, a new kind of vessel will appear at sea: the floating nuclear power plant (FNPP).

The Academician Lomonosov, currently under construction in Russia, is only one project of several being developed so far.

The formal keel laying ceremony took place in April 2007 at the Sevmash shipyard of the Russian State Center for Nuclear Shipbuilding in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Region. After about a year and a half, the state-owned corporation Rosatom revoked the general contract, handing it over to the Baltiysky Zavod (Baltic Plant) Shipyard in St. Petersburg. So now the birthplace of the first-ever floating nuclear power plant will be the Baltic Sea instead of the White Sea.

What was the reason for the change? Nothing too special, as Sevmash's capacity is largely absorbed by a government defense order, and the FNPP must be ready by 2010.

The FNPP will be a barge able to move with the help of a tug boat. Transportation will be done without nuclear fuel, so on the move it will be non-threatening hardware.

The FNPP will look like a small island with an area of between 7.4 and 12.4 acres. It resembles a "symbiosis" of a nuclear-powered vessel and a standard land-based nuclear plant. It could well arouse amazement and fear, as radiophobia is widespread. Nevertheless, according to Sergei Kirienko, chief of Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency, "the floating nuclear power plant with several levels of protection will be much safer than a land-based one."

The reactor type to be used on the FNPP proved its advantages during the tragedy of the sinking Kursk submarine in the Barents Sea in 2000. When a powerful explosion disabled the submarine's electricity supply and its hull filled with water, the nuclear reactor was turned off automatically by a signal from the security system. When the submarine was later raised, it still contained a safe and sound reactor, ready to operate.

Both physical parameters and a potential terrorist threat were taken into account while developing the security system. The latest advances in science and technology, including fingerprint and iris identification, are used to prevent unauthorized access to the FNPP nuclear material. Provision is also made for protecting the reactor from underwater sabotage.

The barge hosting the power unit will drop anchor off the coast near a populated area or a production facility. The crew of up to 140 men works on a four-month shift rotation. Transformer plants will be situated on shore. Although the FNPP is around 15 times less powerful than a standard land-based nuclear power plant, it would still be able to supply energy to a city with a population of 100,000 people. Used for desalination, it could produce 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water a day. An FNPP would save up to 200,000 tons of coal and 100,000 tons of furnace oil per year. It would have a service life of between 10 and 12 years, after which it would weigh anchor to undergo maintenance and refueling, while another FNPP arrives to replace it.

The mobile nuclear plant was developed to meet energy demand in Russia's remote regions. A flotilla of such vessels is needed to resolve the energy crisis in the country's Far East and extreme North. Although the FNPP is still under development, an investment agreement has already been signed with the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to build FNPPs to supply energy to the northern parts of the region.

Upon the first vessel's completion, its reactors will start generating energy for Russia's North-Western region. Potential foreign customers will have the opportunity to see the FNPP in action. Experts say demand will outstrip supply.

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

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