Russia Using Small Nuclear Reactors For Power And Icebreaking


Russia’s commitment to civil marine nuclear power is growing. Power units for three new icebreakers are seen as the forerunners of a small reactor design for next-generation floating nuclear power plants.

The current fleet of four nuclear-powered icebreakers is slated to continue operation until 2020, working the freezing ports in Russia’s Arctic coast and maintaining the Northern Sea Route.

These powerful vessels, as well as two nuclear-powered freighters, two floating technical bases, a radioactive waste ship and a radiation monitoring ship are operated by RosAtomFlot. It also has three icebreakers and two floating bases in decommissioning.

Although the fleet may be secure until 2020, three or even five new icebreakers will be needed at that time to cover retirements of older craft, said Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko. The exact number would depend on the forecasts of the transport ministry. However, “For us, the main task is to make sure that everything is built as quickly as possible,” said Kiriyenko, noting that each new icebreaker would use up about RUB 30 billion ($920 million) from the state infrastructure development budget.

The new model will be based around the RITM-200 pressurized water reactor, a design developed by OKBM Afrikantov that integrates some main components into the reactor vessel and produces 55 MWe for the motor-driven propellor. The same design is foreseen as being incorporated in floating power plants. It would operate on fuel enriched to less than 20% uranium-235 and require refuelling every seven years over a 40-year lifespan.

“This is a fundamentally new nuclear power unit,” said Kiriyenko, “By creating such a set-up for a new type of icebreaker, we are working on parallel technology for next-generation floating nuclear power plants.”

Currently the first mobile small-reactor power plant in the world is being constructed in Saint Petersburg. The Akademik Lomonosov will use two KLT-40S reactors to produce a total of 70 MWe for Vilyuchinsk, in the Kamchatka region in Russia’s far east. Later units based on the RITM-200 would feature one reactor and produce 55 MWe.

About 60% of RosAtomFlot’s income is from commercial services on the Northern Sea Route, with government subsidies of RUB 1.26 billion ($38.9 million) per year making up the rest. This support is fixed for another three years, after which Kiriyenko said the company should return operating profits based on fees for strategic work sanctioned by the state. The company has recently been removed from a list of companies prevented from being controlled by the private sector, although Kiriyenko said Rosatom would under no circumstances sell any of its 100% holding.

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