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Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Power Plant

The Akademik Lomonosov generates 70 megawatts of electricity, and plenty of concern

1 min read
Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Power Plant

Russian nuclear engineering group Rosatom launched the world's first floating nuclear power plant Wednesday, according to The Voice of Russia. Photos show the Akademik Lomonosov, a 21,500-ton barge equipped with twin 35-megawatt light-water reactors, slipping into the water at St. Petersburg's Baltic Shipyard.

The Akademik Lomonosov represents a particularly flexible example of the small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear power plants that are under development worldwide. SMRs provide a 'scale of multiples' that could lower the cost of financing nuclear energy. But their flexibility also brings a phalanx of new risk considerations to the nuclear bargain -- particularly one like this that's designed to change locales. No surprise then that Greenpeace Russia has dubbed the Akademik Lomonosov the world’s most dangerous nuclear project in a decade.

Nuclear engineering group Rosatom anticipates that within two years the Akademik Lomonosov will be operating in its first port of call: an Arctic oil and gas operation. In addition to remote locations, Rosatom sees a good fit for floating SMRs in developing countries, where the SMR offers a right-sized solution for power grids that are growing fast but also comparatively weak and cash-poor.

Russia's minister for nuclear energy Sergei Kiriyenko claimed to have "numerous orders" for the floating power plants during Wednesday's champagne-smashing event, according to The Voice of Russia.

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An illustration of pipes going around from hot to cold behind a chinese animal statue on a pedestal.
MCKIBILLO

Jutting out from the coast of China’s Fujian province, Changbiao Island may seem small and unremarkable. It is anything but. This is where the China National Nuclear Corp. is building two fast-neutron nuclear breeder reactors, the first of which is slated to connect to the grid in 2023, the second in 2026. So China could start producing weapons-grade plutonium there very soon.

They are called breeder reactors because they produce more nuclear fuel than they consume. According to Chinese authorities, the ones on Changbiao are civilian power reactors, designed to generate 600 megawatts of electricity each, which amounts to a little more than 1 percent of the total capacity of China’s nuclear power sector. But each reactor could also yield up to 200 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium each year, enough for about 50 nuclear warheads—which is making nuclear-arms-control experts in Western countries nervous.

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