According to the energy ministry, the floating plant would initially provide 60MW of energy for the 170,000 people of Severodvinsk on the White Sea, on Russia’s northwestern coast, and would be completed within 5 years. Floating plants were first considered by the US in the 1960’s but were reportedly abandoned because of worries over safety.

The ministry said that the floating plant could be a prototype for a series of similar stations and is still awaiting sufficient funding to construct a much larger reactor in eastern Siberia. The main reason for building the US$109 million plant is the cost-effectiveness of being able to tow it to wherever needed, as Northern Russia is so prone to energy crises, but energy specialists have many concerns about safety implications.

“Building an off-shore plant is more risky than an on-shore one,” Thomas Nilsen, a researcher of Russia’s nuclear legacy at Bellona, an NGO which finds solutions to nuclear waste problems, told edie. “The Severodvinsk plant’s position cannot be considered safe as it will be situated only a few hundred metres from the nearest block of flats. We also believe that off-shore plants will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, there will be a danger of collision caused by drunken sailors, a problem in the area, and waves will make it unstable.”

Nilsen said that the Russians see nuclear power as their only alternative for this northerly region, but that there is abundant natural gas nearby as well as opportunities for bioenergy.

The US-based organisations the Union of Concerned Scientists and Federation of American Scientists have also expressed doubts about Russia’s capabilities of building the containment shell necessary for holding contaminated water and steam in case of leaks.

Simultaneously, ministers from north European nations meeting in Murmansk, northern Russia, for a conference of the Barents Council stressed that it was important to deal with the issue of nuclear waste in Russia, but offered no concrete proposals for doing so. Recently the EC Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Pattern, spoke out on the threat of Russia’s ‘nuclear graveyards’ surrounding the northerly Kola Peninsula, where some 300 nuclear reactors, about 20% of the world’s total and thousands of spent nuclear fuel elements await decommissioning.(see related story).

“There is an urgent need for an intermediate storage facility for spent fuel to be built, as the existing one is completely full,” Nilsen said. He said that Bellona hopes the international community will assist Russia help with technical and financial support, but added that the biggest challenge was persuading Western companies to take part in remediation efforts, as they fear being involved with Russia’s nuclear industry because of its bad reputation overseas.

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