Nuclear engineers overlooking the first uranium fuel element being loaded into the reactor. Photo: Rosenergoatom

Loading of nuclear fuel begins at floating power plant in Murmansk

Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant will be thoroughly tested before towing to the north Siberian port of Pevek.
July 30, 2018

Loading fuel to a floating nuclear power plant is not like fueling the oil tanks on any merchant vessels. Placing the nuclear fuel roads, filled with uranium pellets, is a comprehensive job.

See video published by Rosenrgiatom in end of this article.

Last week, Rostekhnadzor, Russia’s nuclear watchdog, approved the work to start. The floating nuclear power plant, named “Akademik Lomonosov” is moored at Atomflot, the service base for the fleet of nuclear powered icebreakers in the Kola Bay on the coast of the Barents Sea.

Originally, plans were to fuel the reactors at the shipyard in St. Petersburg where “Akademik Lomonosov” was built, but Rosatom last year agreed to with Norway’s Foreign Ministry to wait with the reactor testing till after the plant had been towed around the coast of Norway. The Norwegians were afraid of potential leakages of radioactivity in its coastal waters in case of troubles during the towing.

Also Greenpeace and the political party Yabloko protested testing of the plant in St. Petersburg, arguing any wrongdoings could cause radiation harm to the five million inhabitants in the city. Instead, reactor testing will now take place in Murmansk, Russia’s largest Arctic port.

The power plant was towed from St. Petersburg to Murmansk in May.

Congratulations. First nuclear fuel element successfully in place. Photo: Rosenergoatom

Locals in Murmansk are not too worried. No media articles have voiced any ones concern. In Murmansk, people are used to nuclear activities, the city is home to the world’s only fleet of civilian nuclear powered vessels and is neighboring several of the military Northern Fleet’s bases with nuclear powered submarines and battle cruiser. Highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is regular transported straight through the city center by rail.

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“As for the safety of potentially nuclear hazardous work, loading the nuclear fuel, to the floating nuclear power plant, this can be compared with similar work on the Vaigach, Taimyr and Severmorput nuclear powered ships,” says Andrey Zolotkov, a local representative of the Bellona Foundation, an environmental group working with nuclear safety issues.

The reactors on board “Akademik Lomonosov” are similar in design to the reactors powering the nuclear powered icebreakers.

Zolotkov tells that such loadings of nuclear fuel rods to the icebreakers have been carried out a dozen times at Atomflot service base without any problems.

“Do not forget that the floating nuclear power plant has attracted a lot of attention so any potentially nuclear dangerous work will be carried out with increased control,” Andrey Zolotkov says to the Barents Observer.

Andrey Zolotkov is nuclear and radiation safety expert with Bellona Murmansk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

This week, the uranium fuel will be loaded to the first reactor, then to be followed by the second. “Today, the specialists have started one of the most important tasks – the gradual loading of nuclear fuel into the reactor units, starting with No 1, and then No. 2,” says Vitaly Trutnev, Head of the Directorate on Construction and Operation of the floating nuclear power plant in a prepared statement posted on the agency’s portal.

Trutnev says the testing of the reactors will start by the end of this year.

“The next stages that are to be implemented by the end of the year will be the physical launch of the reactors and the beginning of complex mooring tests; we’ll start to implement them after obtaining the relevant Rostekhnadzor permits.”

Rosenergoatom assures testing in Murmansk will be safe.

“Atomflot base possesses all the necessary infrastructure, specialists and competencies both for loading the nuclear fuel and for physically launching the reactors,” says Dmitriy Alekseenko, Deputy Head of the Directorate on Construction and Operation of the floating nuclear power plant. 

“Akademik Lomonosov” is moored at Atomflot base north of Murmansk city. Photo: Blogger51

After reactor testing, the plan is to tow the plant across the Barents Sea and further east along the Northern Sea Route to the port of Pevek next spring.

The two KLT-40S reactor units can generate up to 70 MW of electric energy additional to providing thermal heating to the town of Pevek.

As previously reported by the Barents Observer, “Akademik Lomonosov” is the first of a series of different maritime reactors to power Russia’s Arctic development in the years to come.

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