Rosatom focuses on the Arctic

9 July 2020

For 60 years Russian nuclear icebreakers have been escorting ships on the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic Ocean. Development of the region remains a priority for Rosatom, as Judith Perera reports

Above Image: Rosatom is the world’s only operator of a nuclear powered icebreaker fleet


VLADIMIR PANOV RESIGNED FROM HIS post mayor of Russian city Nizhny Novgorod in May to take up a position as special representative on the development of the Arctic at state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

His responsibilities will include coordination between Rosatom, as an infrastructure operator of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), and the authorities that are engaged in the development of the Arctic area and Russian regions along the Northern Sea Route. This reflects a noticeable growth in the role of the Arctic as a driver of Russian development.

The Arctic is a long-term game with a planning horizon of decades, according to Andrei Kudisov, political consultant and expert at the Moscow-based Centre for Applied Research and Programmes (PRISP Centre). The Arctic is important for Russia for a number of reasons. Global climate change makes easier to extract oil and gas on the Arctic shelf, and opens the NSR as an alternative to existing transport corridors. The region is also strategically and politically important because of its natural resources.

In July 2018, the Directorate of the Northern Sea Route was formed, headed by Vyacheslav Ruksha, who also took on the position of deputy head of Rosatom, which was appointed infrastructure operator along the Northern Sea Route at the end of 2018.

The Directorate’s tasks include organising ship navigation within the NSR, developing the infrastructure of seaports, including energy, creating a navigation safety system, as well as navigational and hydrographic support. In addition, the logistics parallel project office and Rusatom Cargo operator, created within its framework, are involved in the development of international transit sea freight traffic along the Northern Sea Transit Corridor. In order to develop the Rosatom project through Atomenergoprom, at the end of 2019 it acquired 30% of the parent company of the Delo transport group, a transport and logistics holding company.

In December 2019, the government approved a plan for the development of the NSR infrastructure to 2035. It has three main stages, to 2024, 2030 and 2035. Measures envisaged include developing infrastructure for large investment projects and preparing the conditions for transit shipping.

Rosatom’s icebreaker fleet

On 26 May, the keel was laid for Russia’s latest nuclear- powered icebreaker under construction at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg. Yakutia will be the fourth icebreaker under Project 22220 after Arktika, Sibir and Ural.


Above Image: Ceremony marked the laying down of Yakutia on 26 May (Photo credit: Atomflot)


Rosatom already plays a key role in development of the Arctic, which depends heavily on Rosatom’s icebreaker fleet. Rosatomflot and Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex (SKK) in April signed a RUB127.6 billion ($1.74 billion) contract for the construction of the Leader nuclear icebreaker (Project 10510). The document was signed by Mustafa Kashka, FSUE Atomflot general director, and Sergey Tseluyko, general director of Zvezda. Leader is due for commissioning in 2027. The vessel will provide year-round pilotage along the NSR at a commercially acceptable speed, which is necessary for the export of hydrocarbons to foreign markets. It should allow for year-round export of LNG from Novatek’s projects on the Yamal Peninsula and the Gydan Peninsula.

“Leader will be equipped with two RITM-400 type nuclear reactors developed by Rosatom specialists,” said Atomflot director general Mustafa Kashka. “The total capacity of the icebreaker will be 120MW, which will allow the vessel to overcome ice more than 4 metres thick.”

Leader will be built according to the technical specifications of the Iceberg Central Design Bureau. The RITM-400 reactor was developed by Rosatom subsidiary OKBM Afrikantov.

The main characteristics of Project 10510’s nuclear icebreaker design are: power capacity of 120MW (on the propeller shafts); maximum speed of 22 knots (in clear water); length of 209m and width of 47.7m; maximum ice penetration of 4m; and displacement of about 69,700 tonnes. As well as two RITM-400 reactors, its main power equipment consists of a steam turbine unit equipped with four turbo-generators, each with a capacity of 37MW, and an electric propulsion system equipped with four propeller motors, each with a capacity of 30MW.

Project 10510 was preceded by third-generation ‘universal’ LK-60 icebreakers — Arktika, Sibir and Ural (Project 22220) — built as dual-draught (8.55m or 10.5m) wide-beam (34m) ships of 25,450dwt or 33,540dwt with ballast, able to handle 3m of ice. They each have two RITM-200 reactors of 175MWt each, delivering 60MW at the propellers via twin turbine- generators and three motors.

Cleaning up the Arctic

Rosatom is also expected to be given additional responsibilities to clean up the Arctic, removing sunken objects containing used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. A draft presidential decree to that effect is currently in preparation. Approval of the plan is expected in the summer.

The draft decree says that the government must approve the plan, for 2020-2029 for rehabilitating the Arctic zone, within a month. Funding must be assured through adjustments to the state programme for the nuclear energy industry.

An explanatory note to the document states “one of the important environmental problems of the Arctic is radiation pollution of the Arctic, associated with past flooding of nuclear and radiation hazardous facilities”. The authors of the document note that between 1959 and 1992, there were 80 campaigns in the Arctic to sink radioactive objects, including reactor compartments, nuclear submarines, special vessels and containers of solid radioactive waste, metal structures and equipment. The nuclear submarine K-27 is also sunk in the region. “Sinking was carried out in the Kara Sea at depths from 20 to 300 metres. The total number of flooded objects exceeds 17,000 units with total activity at the time of flooding of about 1000 curies,” the note says. It adds that there are seven dangerous nuclear fuel facilities: for five flooding was planned and two sank accidentally.

“Today, the Rosatom state corporation has all the existing infrastructure for their disposal and isolation on land, and the lifting and transportation of nuclear hazardous facilities will be carried out by a Russian shipping company,” the note adds.

In an interview with in February, Anatoly Grigoriev, head of international technical assistance projects at Rosatom, discussed how to process nuclear waste stored in the Arctic and in the Far East.

Grigoriev identified four main facilities needing action:

  • Andreeva Bay, where fuel from the cores of at least 100 nuclear submarine reactors was placed into storage. After a radiation accident at this storage facility in 1989 the fuel was transferred to temporary storage in tanks used for storing liquid radioactive waste.
  • Gremikha (Murmansk region), Russia’s only storage for the cores of Alpha class submarines with liquid metal coolant and uranium-beryllium fuel.
  • Atomflot (Murmansk city) where a repository houses 50 containers of uranium-zirconium fuel from atomic icebreakers unloaded from the Lotta floating technical base.
  • Lepse floating technical base, now located at the Nerpa Shipyard in Snezhnogorsk (Murmansk region), a branch of Zvezdochka Ship Repair Centre.

Work is already underway at Andeeva Bay, where fuel removal began in 2017. By mid 2019, 29% had been removed — 1 million curies of the total 3.5 million curies.

In September, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced the first successful shipment of spent nuclear fuel from the Lepse service ship to Murmansk. Atomflot has completed the unloading of two batches of fuel and has sent them out of the Nerpa Shipyard for processing. Dismantling of Lepse is planned to be completed in 2022.

Simon Evans, EBRD associate director, nuclear safety, said: “The fuel removal process is an immensely challenging operation and the culmination of many years of international collaboration to address the legacy of the Lepse. The EBRD has been manaaged the international support funds for over 10 years to support the mitigation of this risk. Today is an important milestone in removing a serious danger to the people and the environment of Barents Sea region.”

On the subject of sunken waste Grigoriev noted that in 2014, the European Commission ordered international organisations to carry out feasibility studies and develop an action plan for the safe and reliable management of radiation hazardous objects in the Arctic seas.

Of the total, 17,000 had undergone natural radioactive decay and had reached a safe state. “Of the remaining 1000 objects, six were identified as the most dangerous... nuclear submarines, reactor compartments and items where reactors with nuclear fuel are located.”

He added that European countries (Italy, Germany, England and Norway) together with the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences had considered whether to raise the objects or to continue to monitor them.

Russian specialists, following extensive research and modelling, concluded that the objects do not pose a real threat and will not pose one for decades. “At the same time, one cannot ignore the possibility of a deliberate negative impact from these objects, as well as the ethical issue— the obligation not to shift the burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of future generations.” The report said dealing with the most dangerous facilities would cost €256m ($277m) and would take eight years from the start of work.

Author information: Judith Perera, Contributing Editor, Nuclear Engineering International

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