Russian floating nuclear reactors spark contamination fears

Russia's plans to have a floating nuclear power plant operational by 2009, with five or more to follow, have brought fears of nuclear contamination to the people and marine life of Arctic regions.

Six to seven nuclear reactors housed on barges in the Arctic Sea will generate electricity for remote Northern areas, Stanislav Antipov, head of the state nuclear energy consortium Rosenergoatom, announced Tuesday.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace Russia and Norway-based Bellona say accidents are likely, and would cause contamination of water, marine life, harm the indigenous population, as well as sending a radioactive cloud into the air.

“Any accident would lead to the pollution of sea as well as air, affect very fragile marine eco-systems, and the indigenous population, whose lifeblood is fishing,” Bellona’s Charles Digges told edie.

“The weather in these areas is extraordinarily unpredictable, in the winters waves can go up to 10 or 20 metres,” he added.

Floating reactors will be smaller than land-based units, generating around 70 MW of power – around triple the size of a naval reactor – compared with thousands of MW for conventional reactors. They will be placed on barges, transported by sea and moored by the coast to generate electricity.

Environmentalists question the project’s economic sense, pointing to wave and wind energy as cheaper and safer ways of powering Russia’s remote regions.

“But Rosenergoatom likes its gizmos,” said Charles Digges.

Stanislav Antipov dismissed environmentalists’ concerns, saying that the floating reactors would be made to high safety standards.

The floating reactors are part of a wider expansion programme for Russia’s nuclear power industry, announced this week. Two new reactors are to be built each year until 2030, with a target of increasing the share of nuclear in Russia’s electricity generation from 16 to 25%.

Russia also wants to sell floating nuclear reactors to Southeast Asian countries.

The proposition has met with keen interest from China, Thailand and Indonesia.

Greenpeace Russia has criticised the project, saying it would bring an increased terrorism risk.

“Exploitation of floating nuclear power plants in Southeast Asian countries without intensified security measures (…) creates a serious threat of terrorism and piracy on the high seas”, Greeenpeace Russia wrote in an address to the FSB.

The Russian cabinet will be discussing detailed plans for the nuclear expansion in March or April.

By Goska Romanowicz

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