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Clean Power Nuclear Powered Ice Breaker - 50 Years of Victory

Published on July 17th, 2008 | by Rod Adams

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Nuclear Power Enables Scheduled North Pole Cruises for at Least Two Companies



Nuclear Powered Ice Breaker - 50 Years of VictoryOne of the reasons that I am so enthusiastic about nuclear fission technology is that it provides humans with the ability to accomplish tasks that would be impossible with any other power source.

As a former submarine engineer, I never fail to marvel at the fact that a volume of fuel small enough to fit under my office desk could power a ship for 15-30 years without even taking a breath. Trying to compare nuclear capabilities with wind or solar power is like trying to compare Michael Jordan in his prime to a bench warmer on an elementary school basketball team.

I once saw an unforgettable documentary on A & E titled Icebreaker to the North Pole. The film started off as a tale of heroic sacrifice and scientific exploration by two teams, one Canadian and one American, that traveled in partnership on board one icebreaking vessel from each country. As the two diesel powered ships slogged their way through the ice, it was clear that they were operating near their design limits in terms of ice thickness and length of the journey due to on board fuel storage capacity.

Every time the ships encountered moderate ice, they had to pour on the throttle and send plumes of black diesel smoke out of their stack. Since one of the experiments done during the trip was an investigation of the CO2 concentrations in the ice cores, there was some irony involved in seeing the emissions from the ship.

The second half of the story turned into a bit of a farce since the two western teams were met at the Pole by the Yamal, a Russian nuclear powered icebreaker that was able to churn through the ice almost as if it did not exist. When the Yamal arrived at the North Pole, the passengers on the ship – a group of school aged dancers and singers – went out on the ice and provided a show for the cameras. There was quite a contrast between the sense of struggle and hearty exploration by the scientists and the fact that the young dancers arrived with little difficulty and in comfortable surroundings.

Amusing side note – if you visit Amazon.com to purchase a copy of the Icebreaker to the North Pole video, you will note that one of the scientists who was on the journey wrote a review. The comment sounds a lot like sour grapes to me:

Frankly the cuts from the children to the scientists trivializes the importance of the work being doen on the expedition for the sake of cuteness.

I was a participant in this expedition. It was historic and deserves to be documented accordingly. Unfortunately, this video isn’t it.

With nuclear power as a tool, it is now possible for anyone with a large enough checking account and about 16 days of available vacation to take the same journey that the school children took in 1994. In fact, there are at least two cruise lines operating North Pole cruises this summer including Poseidon Arctic Voyages and Quark Expeditions.

Quark Expeditions operates polar expeditions using specialized fleet of ships that travel to Antarctica, through the Northwest Passage and now, to the North Pole. A trip that challenged explorers for years, the trip from Murmansk to the geographic North Pole can now be done on a comfortable, well appointed ship named 50 Years of Victory in about 4.5 days.

50 Years of Victory from the airThe maiden voyage of 50 Years of Victory took place from June 23 – July 7, 2008. The passengers kept a blog of their travels, so you can read all about the polar bear sightings, the 5 course meals, the expert crew (with as many as thirty years of experience on nuclear icebreakers), and reaching 90N on June 29, 2008.

You can also visit a photo library of the trip. While browsing, notice that there is not a spec of smoke coming out of the stack, which is almost like an appendix for a nuclear powered ship.

Photo credit – 50 Years of Victory – Prisca Campbell, Quark Expeditions. Used with permission, all rights reserved.

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About the Author

loves and respects our common environment, but he has a fatal flaw in the eyes of many environmentalists -- he's a huge fan of atomic energy. Reduce, reuse, and recycle have been watchwords for Rod since his father taught him that raising rabbits is a great way to turn kitchen scraps into fertilizer for backyard fruit trees and vegetable gardens. They built a compost heap together in about 1967, when he was 8 and when Earth Day was a mere gleam in some people's eye. During his professional career, he has served in several assignments on nuclear submarines, including a 40-month tour as the Engineer Officer of the USS Von Steuben. In 1994, he was awarded US patent number 5309592 for the control system for a closed-cycle gas turbine. He founded Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. in 1993, started Atomic Insights in 1995, and began producing the Atomic Show Podcast in 2006. He is currently an active duty officer (O-5) in the US Navy. He looks forward to many interesting discussions.



  • Sinckers

    Huh and Huh2 – The leads opened up by ships quickly close again.  Also, polar bears are marine mammals and terrific swimmers.  A short dip to cross a lead is like crossing the street for us.  The problem with diminishing sea ice (rather than fleeting leads) is that polar bears have far less opportunity to hunt the seals on the ice (of course they cant catch them in open water) and they have further to swim in open water to get from one feeding area to another.  

  • huh 2

    I agree with Huh – with global warming the concern is that the channels the ships make in the ice will not refreeze. This is becoming a big problem for the beautiful polar bears that everyone revels in seeing. Humans can be so selfish.

  • huh 2

    I agree with Huh – with global warming the concern is that the channels the ships make in the ice will not refreeze. This is becoming a big problem for the beautiful polar bears that everyone revels in seeing. Humans can be so selfish.

  • Just Watching

    I have heard the new reactors in Europe and Russia use 98% or more of the fuel compaired to only 2% utilization by the older reactors used by the U.S. comercial electric companies.

    Any of you navy guys know the truth about this?

  • Just Watching

    I have heard the new reactors in Europe and Russia use 98% or more of the fuel compaired to only 2% utilization by the older reactors used by the U.S. comercial electric companies.

    Any of you navy guys know the truth about this?

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Rod Adams

    Huh? – I hope you realize that the path of an icebreaker freezes back again. The wake is no more permanent than the wake from any other ship on the water.

    The key is the reality that people want to travel and see the world. Based on the blog that I linked to, many of the passengers on the ship seem to be very conscious of the environment and worried about its future. That is the case with many eco-tourists who journey to remote areas.

    However, flying around the world imposes a certain hazard to the atmosphere. My purpose for showing just how powerful atomic fission can be as a transportation fuel is to try to get people thinking about how we can move around an leave the smallest possible impact.

    An emissions free ship certainly provides less long term impact than one that pumps out diesel smoke.

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Rod Adams

    Huh? – I hope you realize that the path of an icebreaker freezes back again. The wake is no more permanent than the wake from any other ship on the water.

    The key is the reality that people want to travel and see the world. Based on the blog that I linked to, many of the passengers on the ship seem to be very conscious of the environment and worried about its future. That is the case with many eco-tourists who journey to remote areas.

    However, flying around the world imposes a certain hazard to the atmosphere. My purpose for showing just how powerful atomic fission can be as a transportation fuel is to try to get people thinking about how we can move around an leave the smallest possible impact.

    An emissions free ship certainly provides less long term impact than one that pumps out diesel smoke.

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Rod Adams

    No Nukes – You use some colorful language, but can you give me any examples of harm to humans or other animals from the by-products of nuclear power reactor operation?

    Every single minute that fossil fuel plants are operating, they are spewing deadly waste products directly into the environment. We have accepted the benefits provided by combustion for thousands of years – since we learned to control fire – but also accepted and mitigated the risks.

    We learned how to build chimneys so that the smoke could be safely piped outside of our cabins and tents. We have learned to build tall smokestacks with scrubbers and bag houses, but those only dilute and share the problem with wide areas or put the toxins in sludge pools and land fills.

    With nuclear power, we know that the by-products are dangerous if not properly controlled, so we control them. For fifty years, nuclear power plants around the world have been carefully isolating and storing their byproducts. We know where almost every gram is stored and it does not take up much room.

    Most of the byproducts are valuable raw material just waiting for a time when it can be recycled into new plants or used for other really exciting applications like sterilizing medical tools, providing long-life batteries, or irradiating food to protect it from spoiling or bacteria.

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Rod Adams

    No Nukes – You use some colorful language, but can you give me any examples of harm to humans or other animals from the by-products of nuclear power reactor operation?

    Every single minute that fossil fuel plants are operating, they are spewing deadly waste products directly into the environment. We have accepted the benefits provided by combustion for thousands of years – since we learned to control fire – but also accepted and mitigated the risks.

    We learned how to build chimneys so that the smoke could be safely piped outside of our cabins and tents. We have learned to build tall smokestacks with scrubbers and bag houses, but those only dilute and share the problem with wide areas or put the toxins in sludge pools and land fills.

    With nuclear power, we know that the by-products are dangerous if not properly controlled, so we control them. For fifty years, nuclear power plants around the world have been carefully isolating and storing their byproducts. We know where almost every gram is stored and it does not take up much room.

    Most of the byproducts are valuable raw material just waiting for a time when it can be recycled into new plants or used for other really exciting applications like sterilizing medical tools, providing long-life batteries, or irradiating food to protect it from spoiling or bacteria.

  • no nukes

    Might not have “plumes of smoke” coming from the stack, but the pollution the nuclear process produces is so diabolically toxic to all life in small amounts. Yes, nuclear is a marvel. But the downside of the toxic nuclear waste is far greater than upside of the marvel.

    While trying to paint nuclear in a bright light balance it with the black abyss of the waste it producers.

  • no nukes

    Might not have “plumes of smoke” coming from the stack, but the pollution the nuclear process produces is so diabolically toxic to all life in small amounts. Yes, nuclear is a marvel. But the downside of the toxic nuclear waste is far greater than upside of the marvel.

    While trying to paint nuclear in a bright light balance it with the black abyss of the waste it producers.

  • Huh?

    I’m not sure a nuclear powered ice breaker carving up the diminishing arctic ice sheet is the best example of clean, sustainable technology.

  • Huh?

    I’m not sure a nuclear powered ice breaker carving up the diminishing arctic ice sheet is the best example of clean, sustainable technology.

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