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Russia intends to bring two nuclear power plants floating on a barge to the Arctic to power oil exploration efforts. What could possibly go wrong?

Fossil Fuels

Russia Will Use Floating Nuclear Plant To Power Arctic Oil Exploration. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Russia intends to bring two nuclear power plants floating on a barge to the Arctic to power oil exploration efforts. What could possibly go wrong?

Thanks to global warming, much of the ice that used to be in the Arctic has melted, making it easier to drill for more oil to make even more emissions. If you find that scenario more than a little twisted, you’re not alone. “Curiouser and curiouser,” as Lewis Carroll might say.

floating nuclear power plant

Credit: Anton Vaganov/TASS

Russia, whose economy relies almost exclusively on selling the oil it produces to other nations (have you seen any Russian cars for sale lately?), wants to leverage that easier access to the Arctic to generate some cashola to keep the oligarchs and Vlad The Impaler happy. But oil exploration is an energy intensive operation and there are very few extension cords long enough to reach the Arctic.

What to do? “Simple, Dmitri. We build excellent nuclear power plant, stick on barge, and float to Arctic. Is good idea, no?” In this case, no is the correct answer.

Beginning in 2007 (nuclear power plants take a long time to build, even in Russia), Russia began constructing a barge containing two nuclear power plants with a total output of 70 megawatts at a shipyard in St. Petersburg. Dubbed the Academik Lomonosov, the plan was to tow it to Pevek above the Arctic Circle to power a desalinization plant and oil drilling operations in the area.

But the proposed route through the Baltic Sea would bring the barge in close proximity to several nations that border the Baltic, including Finland, Sweden, and Norway, not to mention Lithuania, Poland, Germany, and Denmark, none of whom were all that thrilled at the idea of a floating nuke gliding past their doorstep.

An effort spearheaded by Greenpeace put the kibosh on the idea of loading the nuclear fuel aboard in St. Petersburg, so Russia switched to Plan B. Now the barge will be towed to Murmansk, where it will be fueled, powered up, and then towed to Pevck.

The Academik Lomonosov will replace an existing 48 megawatt nuke already operating in Pevek. No doubt, it will be safely decommissioned and there is no need to worry about two Russian nuclear power plants in the Arctic, as Russia has an enviable track record for nuclear safety.

The barge with its nuclear power plants aboard has cost $232 million so far and will make enough electricity to power a city of 100,000 people. It also will have the power to obliterate a much larger city if anything should go wrong. It is owned by Rosatom, a Russian company with absolutely no ties to Vladimir Putin whatsoever.

“The pier, hydraulic engineering structures, and other buildings, crucial for the mooring of [the floating power plant] will be ready to use upon Akademik Lomonosov arrival,” said Rosatom in a press release. Oh, happy day!

Floating nuclear power is not a novel idea. Between 1968 and 1975, the United States operated a floating nuke in Panama. That in no way makes towing a floating nuke to the Arctic a good idea.

The answer to this madness, of course, is ridding the world of the scourge of oil and other fossil fuels. If the economic and human costs of fighting world wars to protect access to oil aren’t enough, the incalculable harm done to the environment by fossil fuels should make humanity want to ban them altogether. Not doing so is a form of Russian roulette played with the lives of every person on Earth and every living organism — a rather appropriate analogy, given the subject of this article.

Humans are classified as homo sapiens by science. The sapiens part comes from the Latin verb “sapare,” which connotes a certain ability to think. Based on the available evidence, that definition may need to be amended to something suggesting an inability to think. Satirist YIP Harburg summed it up best in an amusing little rhyme some years ago.

God made the world in six days flat. On the seventh, he said, “I’ll rest.”

So he let the thing into orbit swing to give it a dry run test.

A billion years went by, then he took a look at the whirling blob.

His spirits fell as He said, “Oh, well. It was only a six day job.”

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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