Nuclear-powered icebreaker «50 Let Pobedy» in drydock in Murmansk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Russia extends lifetime of nuclear icebreakers to meet rising demand

New powerful icebreakers are under construction, but to meet demand the current fleet of nuclear icebreakers in Murmansk will have to sail 5-10 years longer than originally planned.
March 12, 2019


Russia gives full speed for shipping along the Northern Sea Route. Last year, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering an annual cargo goal of 80 million tons annually from 2024.

Speaking at a breakout session during Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø earlier this winter, Director of Russia’s Northern Sea Route Directorate, Vyacheslav Ruksha, outlined how the country’s fleet of icebreakers will increase from currently four to 13 vessels by the year 2035 to ensure cargo volum growth and year-round navigation along the Northern Sea Route.

Vyasheslav Ruksha is Director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate and Deputy Director of Rosatom. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

New icebreakers sailing up includes the three LK-60 dual reactor powered vessels currently under construction at the Baltisky Yard in St. Petersburg. According to Ruksha, construction of two more of the same class will start later this year aimed at commissioning by 2024 and 2025.

Last week, Barents Observer reported about the Russian government giving go-ahead to the giant Leader class nuclear icebreakers. The ships will be twice as powerful as the LK-60 class and is said to be able to crush ice up to four meters with a beam wide enough to open the eastern route from the Yamal Peninsula towards the Pacific for the growing fleet of LNG tankers for year-around shipping.

Ruksha could tell that due to the fast growth in Arctic shipping, the state-operated company Rosatomflot, operating the fleet of icebreakers, now are working with regulators to allow for a lifetime prolongation of the existing four nuclear-powered icebreakers.

The vessels are «Taimyr», «Vaigach», «Yamal» and «50 Let Pobedy». The newest of them, «50 Let Pobedy», still have a long-lasting original operation life with no hurry to plan for prolongation, while the others are soon at their end of scheduled operations.  


«Taimyr» and «Vaigach» are shallow-water icebreakers assisting shipping in the Kara Sea and to the port of Dudinka on the Yenisei River. «Yamal» and «50 Let Pobedy» are of the Arktika-class and can crash the ice towards the Bering Strait. The two have also sailed to the North Pole with tourists during summer periods.

Commissioned in 1989 and 1990, «Taimyr» and «Vaigach» were originally supposed to be taken out of operation by 2021. Now, according to the Rosatomflot director, their lifetime will be prolonged to 260,000 operation hours, meaning they will continue to sail until 2025 and 2027.

«Taimyr» icebreaker at the Atomflot base in Murmansk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

For «Yamal» the lifetime prolongation with 200,000 hours means the icebreaker could sail until 2028. Details for the «50 Let Pobedy» is not yet on the table, but likely the vessel could be given permission to sail until 2039.

The safety and state of the reactor(s) are the most important factors when authorizing licenses for more years to sail in the harsh Arctic conditions.

Although China plans for its first nuclear-powered icebreaker, no other countries than Russia has sailed nuclear surface vessels in ice-covered Arctic waters. 2019 marks the 60-years anniversary of the first nuclear-powered icebreaker entering service. Clearing sea routes along the Soviet Union’s northern coast from 1959 to 1989, «Lenin» pioneered icebreaking capabilities. Today, the vessel serves as a museum in the central harbor of Murmansk.

New icebreakers in pipe 

Next summer, the first new icebreaker of the LK-60 class, named «Arktika» will make port call to Murmansk and operation in the ice is expected to later in 2020.

In the following two years, also «Sibir» and  «Ural»  will start sailings.

«Arktika» was this week moved from one berth at the Baltisky Yard in St. Petersburg to the plant’s final embarkment where nuclear fuel will be loaded into the reactors, the yard informs at its portal

The new «Arktika» icebreaker at the yard in St. Petersburg. Photo: Baltisky Yard



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