Next stop Pevek1 May 2019
As Russia’s Akademik Lomonsov floating nuclear power plant enters the final stages of commissioning, we look at the operational and safety considerations as well as broader applications for floating nuclear plants internationally.
THE AKADEMIK LOMONOSOV IS A floating power unit. Named after Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, it is planned to be the first in the series of low-capacity mobile power units. It was designed to operate as a component of a floating nuclear cogeneration plant and belongs to a new class of power sources based on Russian nuclear icebreaker technology.
The unit is based on a barge 144m long, 30m wide and with a displacement of 21,500t. Since Akademik Lomonosov is intended for operation in Russia’s northernmost Arctic and Fast East regions, it was decided to assemble it as a non-self-propelled vessel.
On 19 May 2018, Akademik Lomonosov was successfully towed from its construction site at the Baltic shipyard in Saint Petersburg to Rosatom’s icebreaker maintenance site in Murmansk. Nuclear fuel loading took place between July and early October. On 25 November, the main stage of startup testing began, which includes comprehensive tests to ensure it is ready for commercial operation. On 6 December, the first of Akademik Lomonosov’s two reactors was brought to 10% of full power operation.
Once these tests are completed, the unit will be tugged to its destination port at Pevek, Russia’s northernmost town. Here, it will be connected to the city’s electrical grid and heat networks, tested, and commissioned.
The new plant in Pevek is intended to replace the Bilibino nuclear plant and Chaunsky combined heat and power plant. Once commissioned, Akademik Lomonosov will considerably improve quality of life in the region, and create the conditions for social and economic development.
The project is based on small modular reactor technology. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) classification, this category includes reactors with capacity of up to 300MW. The core, steam generator, pressuriser and other equipment are placed within a factory-manufactured single vessel and supplied as a turnkey unit to the site.
The unit has two 35MW KLT-40S reactors together generating up to 70MW of electricity and 50Gcal/h of heat under nominal operation conditions, which is enough to supply power to a town of about 100,000 residents. Apart from the floating power unit, the floating cogeneration plant includes equipment to fasten and unfasten the reactor unit and for the transmission of generated electricity and heat onshore. There are also land-based facilities to export electricity to the grid.
The expected life cycle of the floating power unit is 35-40 years. It will use low-enriched uranium, and spent fuel will be stored on the platform. A refuelling period of up to 60 days is scheduled once every three years. Akademik Lomonosov has a refuelling system to remove spent fuel and load fresh fuel. The system was designed with consideration of a large set of risk factors that may trigger a malfunction. There are also 20-day facility outages scheduled once a year.
With two reactors placed in a small vessel hull, the unit offers all the operational features of an onshore nuclear plant but requires fewer operating staff. It will have up to 342 employees on a rotation basis, with up to 131 employees maintaining the plant at any one time. Akademik Lomonosov has everything that is required for efficient work in shifts under the Arctic conditions, including gyms, canteens, libraries, etc.
Akademik Lomonosov was designed with operational safety as the top priority. The technological solutions used at the floating cogeneration plant are based on Russian nuclear icebreaking technology. These plants have provided trouble-free operation on icebreakers for several decades in the most severe Arctic environments. It is worth mentioning that the icebreaker reactor technology is being constantly improved.
Meanwhile, the barge is designed to be resistant to collisions with icebergs, as well as the impact of a 7m wave and hurricane winds of up to 200km/h. The power unit compartments are protected by the ship’s double hull, and the reactor’s shielding prevents release of radiation outside the reactor compartments.
The construction takes into account the climate of the region where the floating cogeneration plant will be operated. The main body and deck load-bearing structures are made of steel resistant to brittle fracture. Furthermore, the unit has additional structural elements for ice navigation, and is equipped to be towed by a nuclear icebreaker.
The Akademik Lomonosov is the first of the series of facilities that are expected to go into production in future, including for export to other countries.
Floating cogeneration plants may be of interest to all countries that need affordable green energy. These plants can replace ageing thermal plants. The floating nuclear plant displaces coal consumption by 200,000t and oil consumption by 120,000t per year either directly or due to gas saving.
It may supply electricity and heat to developing regions as well as remote locations, including islands. Floating cogeneration plants generate electricity and heat, and with a suitable desalination unit added can desalinate water.
Floating power units are adaptable to various weather conditions, including the low temperatures of the far north and hot tropical climates, without sacrificing safety. This is crucial for countries around the pacific rim that experience intense seismic activity and high tsunami risks.
The second generation of the technology, the optimized floating power unit (OFPU), is currently in the works. The OFPU will be smaller than its predecessor, but more powerful. It is expected to have two 50MW RITM-200M reactors. This model of the floating power unit will be offered for export. It is expected to generated electricity at a cost comparable to that of diesel power plants.
An OFPU may supply energy to large power-consuming industrial facilities that cover their electricity needs with diesel generation, for example, in ore mining near the coastline of Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa, Ghana, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Chili, and other countries. The advantage of using an OFPU as a power source for industry is that it can be moved to a new site once power-consuming operations are completed.