While the EU and United States have all but abandoned nuclear energy as a future power source, with almost no new reactors being built and existing ones being decommissioned, Russia has quietly emerged as the world’s leading builder of peaceful civilian nuclear power plants. Now the Russian state nuclear company, Rosatom, has completed the first commercial floating nuclear plant and has successfully towed it to its ultimate location in the Russian Far East where access to power is difficult. It could transform the energy demands of much of the developing world, in addition to Russia. An added plus is that nuclear plants emit zero carbon emissions so that political opposition based on CO2 does not apply.
The floating power plant, named Akademik Lomonosov, houses two 35-megawatt reactors, based on the design of the nuclear plants aboard the successful fleet of Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers and capable of providing 70MW electric power to city of 100,000.By comparison a typical on-land nuclear station in the USA or Europe is 1,000 MW in size making them suitable only for densely populated industrialized areas.
The smaller reactors are far cheaper to build once they go into multiple-unit production and are far more flexible for locations in developing regions of Asia or Africa where lack of reliable electricity is a major constraint to economic development. The construction and installation cost for the Lomonosov is reportedly $480 million, or about $6.90 per watt, slightly more than an average conventional plant.[i]
It is designed to last 40 years before being towed away to a special location in Russia for decommissioning, similar to the process for nuclear-powered ships. The special vessel is some 140 meters long and 30 meters wide. The design features well-proven Russian-built nuclear reactors used reliably for some five decades to power its nuclear icebreaker fleet, the world’s largest. The vessel itself has been designed to be capable of withstanding a tsunami or even a collision with land or a ship. It is designed to be stationed at a specially fixed site on sea and connected to land via underwater cables.The floating units can act as cogeneration facilities capable of feeding the grid and for desalinating large quantities of seawater making them attractive to the Middle East and other countries with water problems.