WNISR, 27 December 2019
The world’s first floating nuclear power plant was connected to the grid on 19 December 2019. The Akademik Lomonosov, with two reactors of the KLT-40S design, began generating electricity for the Chaun-Bilibino network in Pevek, on the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia’s east Arctic. It remains unclear, however, whether both reactors were connected to the grid and when.
Rosatom’s Director General Alexey Likhachev stated on the day of “grid connection” that, “Akademik Lomonosov becomes the world’s first nuclear power plant based on SMR-class technology to generate electricity. This is a remarkable milestone for both the Russian and the world’s nuclear energy industry. This is also a major step in establishing Pevek as the new energy capital of the region”.
While hailed as representing a major step towards the decarbonization of the Arctic region, the Lomonosov itself is intended to “supply electricity to settlements and companies extracting hydrocarbons and precious stones in the Chukotka region” and the residents of these areas “are key for Russian plans to tap into the hidden Arctic riches of oil and gas as Siberian reserves diminish”.
The twin reactors are powered by two low enriched uranium (LEU) versions of the KLT-40s, a variant of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) reactors used on some of Russia’s icebreakers, designed to operate in three, 12-year operational cycles. At the end of each period, the vessel is planned to be towed back to the RosatomFlot shipyard in Murmansk for refueling and spent fuel removal.
As WNISR2019 reported, the Lomonosov construction has taken at least four times as long as originally projected; a little before construction of the ship began in 2007, Rosatom announced that the plant would begin to operate in October 2010.
In July 2019, Rosatom announced “that it has completed and transferred... the 70 MW Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant... to its subsidiary Rosenergoatom Concern, which recently received a license from the nuclear regulator Rostekhnadzor to operate the nuclear unit until 2029”. The projected cost rose too, from an initial estimate of around six billion rubles (US$232 million), to 37 billion rubles as of 2015 (US$740 million). The delays and high cost may have led Rosatom to conclude that there wouldn’t be a market for this configuration, and it is reported that the agency is now examining if a modified version of the RIT-M200, currently installed on Russian atomic icebreakers, could be modified and marketed.