Over the next 10-15 years Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry (Minatom) plans to build small nuclear power plants in 33 of the northern regions.

The plan is part of a programme that is intended to develop low-capacity nuclear energy, which was discussed by experts at an international seminar in Moscow in October. Minatom is completing the drafts of several projects for the first floating low capacity nuclear plants which are intended for Kamchatka in the far east and Severodvinsk in the Arctic in 2006 and 2010, respectively. These will use KLT-40 turbine generators, which are currently installed in all nuclear ice-breakers.

First Deputy Minister for Nuclear Power Bulat Nigmatulin stressed that such plants are only efficient and profitable for regions in the extreme north. “We plan to build small nuclear power plants of different types – floating or in the form of small reactors carried aboard nuclear submarines or iceboats”, he said, also insisting that they would be safe.

“The Kursk nuclear submarine provides proof of this. It was wrecked and greatly damaged in its forward compartment, but despite this, the submarine preserved its nuclear reactor in a serviceable condition and the radio- activity around it did not exceed the norm,” he said.

Russia currently has designs for 35 small nuclear power stations, including 30 on land and five or six floating plants, according to Aleksandr Polushkin, the deputy executive director of nuclear utility Rosenergoatom. The 70MWe floating station for planned Severodvinsk would cost in the region of $100-120 million, he said.

The station will be installed in a barge, where a crew of 60 will stay in shifts of four months. Nuclear waste will also be kept on the barge.

Rosenergoatom is negotiating the construction of the stations with Primorye, Kamchatka and Chukotka authorities, Polushkin said. Private capital will only be allowed to provide repayable credits for the construction.

The licensing of the Severodvinsk construction is to be completed in the first quarter of 2002, Polushkin said. The construction of one such station will take four to five years, he said.

Small nuclear power stations are able to achieve break-even point in nearly 10 years compared to 14-20 years for larger stations, he said. In Kamchatka and Chukotka, they would be able to offset the construction costs that are incurred.