Floating nuclear power plant in the city

Environmental activists are taking to the streets of Saint Petersburg to protest the planned test run of a floating nuclear power plant on the Neva River, just two kilometres away from the Hermitage. The country’s nuclear authorities believe the power plant could prove a successful export product in the future. Axel Eichholz reports from Moscow.

Russian nuclear authorities plan to begin test runs on a floating nuclear power plant located close to the heart of Saint Petersburg. (Image credit: rdesign812, flickr/Creative Commons)

The finishes touches have been put on the floating nuclear power plant – called Akademik Lomonosov – at the Saint Petersburg factory. It’s now stationed along the Neva River just two kilometres away from the world-renowned Hermitage museum, which is in the heart of the city.

In recent weeks, more and more protests have been held against the dangerous object in the middle of the 5-million-strong metropolis. Stationing a nuclear object within the city limits was prohibited back in the 1990s. But Rosatam, the nuclear authorities, is playing this down, arguing that the Akademik Lomonosov is actually destined for the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia’s far northeast.

Test run to begin in Saint Petersburg

It’s now been revealed that the power plant reactor will soon be loaded with nuclear fuel rods. What’s more, the test run is set to begin in the middle of the city. The risks to the population would be unacceptable, says the programme director of Greenpeace Russia, Rachid Alimov.

Previously, the rule was that no nuclear power plants could be located closer than 100 kilometres to a major city. But as Saint Petersburg grew in size, the Leningrad nuclear power plant became too close to the city. Instead of relocating it, the government abolished the old regulation – which in turn means one less concern for the floating nuclear power plant.

Too expensive and too dangerous

According to Alimov, floating nuclear power plants are in general too expensive and too dangerous. The independent nuclear expert Alexei Shchukin confirms this view. He had spent 30 years travelling with nuclear icebreakers.

The Lomonosov power generation unit had already been developed in the 1960s, he says. The same system was used in the “Lenin” icebreaker, followed by other ships.

When constructing the floating nuclear power plant, the system was only altered as needed, he says, which means it is susceptible to faults. Leaks are most likely to occur in the primary circuit, where any water contaminated by the nuclear rods would escape.

But the most dangerous thing is human error. Although personnel are examined every year, no one can predict if someone were to lose it on the job.

At the very least, the floating nuclear power plant should be moved from Saint Petersburg to Murmansk or Arkhangelsk, where shipyards and repair facilities exist for servicing nuclear-powered ships.

Tourist attraction for potential buyers

As regards its planned home in Chukotka, a recent article reported that the demand for electricity has declined there. It seems there has been an overproduction of electricity, making the floating nuclear power plant no longer necessary.

According to expert opinion, Rosatom believes the Akademik Lomonosov has the potential to be a successful export product in the future that could rake in huge amounts of money.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it could work in the heart of Saint Petersburg, conveniently located near the Hermitage, historic buildings and other sites of the city for prospective buyers? After all, neither Rosatom nor the prospective buyers have to spend much time near the Akademik Lomonosov, unlike the city’s civilians.

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