Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sure, A Nuclear Plant, But Does It Float?

This one does:

In three years, Russia will have the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, capable of providing energy and heat to hard-to-get areas as well as drinking water to arid regions.

The unique vessel should be operational by 2016, the general director of Russia’s biggest shipbuilders, the Baltic Plant, Aleksandr Voznesensky told reporters at the 6th International Naval Show in St. Petersburg.

The Akademik Lomonosov is to become the spearhead of a series of floating nuclear power plants, which Russia plans to put into mass-production.

This is a pretty large portfolio of activities – electricity, heat, desalination – it’s like the Ginsu knife of nuclear facilities. Although shaped like a boat, it has no means of locomotion. instead, it is towed where ever it needs to be and anchored in place. I suspect what it ends up doing depends on who buys (leases?) it.

Each ship will have two modified KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors together providing up to 70 MW of electricity or 300 MW of heat, which is enough for a city with a population of 200,000 people.

The Russians admit that there’s nothing particularly new about the technology, just its application.

The floating power-generating unit, aimed at providing energy to large industrial enterprises, port cities and offshore gas and oil-extracting platforms, was designed on the basis of nuclear reactors which are equipped on the icebreakers ships. The technology has proved itself for over 50 years of successful operation in extreme Arctic conditions.  

The reaction to the Akademik Lomonosov has been mixed. ZDNet’s David Gewirtz compares it to the scheming of a Bond villain:

I'm also betting that the producers of Bond flicks could build an entire movie around this premise: "See, okay, this evil villain Leonid Arkady has become the head of Spectre and wants to make his own power."

"He doesn't want to be dependent on other countries for power ever again, see, so he's gonna launch this floating nuke plant and then destroy the world and start civilization over, all living off the power of his floating nuke plant."

Wasn’t this Ras-al-Ghul’s plan for Gotham City in Batman Begins? At least Gewirtz suggests that it is the plant that keeps life plausible after the earth is otherwise denuded of people.

The Week’s Keith Wagstaff keeps the issues in better balance and comes out in favor:

Still, the barges themselves don't seem to be any more dangerous than Russia's nuclear-powered ice-breaker ships, which use the same KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors. The reactor-equipped barges would hold 69 people, and would have to be towed to their locations. They would also be able to power 200,000 homes, and could be modified to desalinate 240,000 cubic meters of water per day.

I could have done without this line:

Of course, no nuclear reactor is completely safe.

No car or anything else is completely safe, either. Nuclear reactors come closer than a lot of human activities, but I’d be willing to just retire the line. Consider it a compromise.

Frankly, the Russians have been beavering away at this project since 2007, until running short of money. It maybe a project worth reviving, but it’s worth hesitating before deciding it’s value. If the Russians can find some customers, fine. Right now, it’s an odd variation on small reactors, if also admittedly an interesting one.


Mikhail Lomonosov was an 18th century – well, everything. He was a scientist in several fields, a poet, an historian, and several etceteras. His pile of accomplishments is quite high. Russiapedia has a thorough accounting, though you have to accept lines describing him as “the first Russian scientist-naturalist of universal importance.” National pride and all.


Anonymous said...

>Russia will have the world’s first floating nuclear power plant,

Except for the hundreds of floating nuclear power plants found on board submarines, the dozens found onboard aircraft carriers, cruisers, and (as mentioned) ice breakers.

Except for those nearly 1000 past and present floating nuclear reactos, it will be the first...

Will Davis said...

The Russian plant will be the first floating, non self-propelled nuclear plant to provide electric power and steam heat to surrounding areas. It will not however be the first floating, non self-propelled nuclear plant; that distinction goes to the STURGIS, which powered the Panama Canal for a number of years and which was operated by the US Army.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Floating nuclear power plants located far out to sea could be used immediately to manufacture ammonia through water electrolysis and the extraction of nitrogen from the air without adding excess CO2 to the atmosphere.

Nitrogen production for fertilizer represents more than 1% of the total energy consumed in the world.

Marcel F. Williams

jimwg said...

re: Marcel F. Williams

Isn't it frustrating as hell that superb points as yours will never make it to -- nor even be accepted by -- the media?

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Rod Adams said...

Whether they are first or not is far less important than the fact that the Russians are building their plants TODAY.

By the way, the Russians started working on the concept long before 2007.