In May 2018, the world’s only nuclear floating power unit (FPU), the Akademik Lomonosov, arrived at the northern Russian port of Murmansk as an intermediate stop on its first maiden voyage from the Baltic shipyard, where it was built, to the Chukotka peninsula in Russia’s Far East, where it will be stationed, expected to start generating power in late 2019.
This will be marking a major milestone not just in the history of world’s civil nuclear power industry, but also in the highly anticipated energy trend in supplying power on demand, whenever and wherever it is needed.
This trend is driven by the need to power the development of remote and poorly accessible areas – a matter of strategic national importance for many countries regardless climate conditions: in the Middle East, with its vast desert regions, in Southeast Asia, with its insular territories, South America remote mountainous areas, and the extreme North.
Supplying electricity to these areas using traditional power generation in the form of large power plants (whether they be hydro-, coal- or nuclear powered) is a highly complex task due to the challenges of limited land area and resources. Not only that, depending on local population and industries’ needs a small or medium power plant is typically the more reasonable and cost-effective solution for powering small industrial facilities and small towns.
At the time being, the Akademik Lomonosov (named after the great Russian trailblazer in science and education Mikhail Lomonosov) is the frontliner in this new trend, being the first in a planned series of unique mobile small power units. The Rosatom-designed and constructed FPU has a power output of 70 MWe and a projected operational lifetime of 40 years. In Murmansk, nuclear fuel will be loaded into the reactor and the first criticality attained, after which the FPU will be towed to its destination in Russia’s extreme Northeast, where it will be connected to the onshore infrastructure of the small town of Pevek. Once operational there, it will replace the ageing local Bilibin NPP and conventional Chaunsk power station, becoming the world’s northernmost nuclear power plant.
Floating nuclear power plants’ advantages are both obvious and unique. For one thing, FNPPs’ mobility means it can be relocated from one site to another if needed, making them a perfect fit for remote coastal and riparian regions far removed from centralized grid systems.
For another thing, an FNPP is a fully autonomous power facility that is built entirely in a shipyard and then towed to the place of its operation. For the customers, this means they’ll be getting a fully assembled, tried and tested, and ready-to-go solution complete with staff living quarters and all the requisite infrastructure for servicing the FNPP.
The project also incorporates a number of innovative solutions in the field of safety and resistance to extreme natural impacts. The FPU is designed to withstand critical situations such as being hit by a tsunami or a collision with another vessel or onshore object. The stress tests conducted at the Akademik Lomonosov before its launch conclusive proved that both the vessel and the reactor are highly resistant to such external shocks as magnitude 10-12 earthquakes and tsunami waves, safeguarding against any radiation impact on the environment or people’s health.
In addition to power generation, FNPPs can also contribute to solving other important issues that remain high on many countries’ agenda, such as freshwater deficit – a problem especially acute in arid desert regions including the Middle East. Thus, the FNPP can be integrated with a floating desalination facility into a floating nuclear power and desalination complex supplying both electricity and drinking water for local population and businesses’ needs.
As well as being mobile, FNPPs are highly flexible in terms of meeting the customer’s needs and operational conditions. FNPPs can be adapted to operate in virtually any climate – from the extreme north to the tropical belt. Their output can also be adjusted to align with the daily and seasonal electricity consumption cycles.
Finally, but no less important, like all nuclear power plants, FNPPs produce no CO2 or other polluting emissions and upon decommissioning are reverted into a greenfield site, thus being a source of clean energy and helping preserve the environment for future generations.
Even before the world’s unique FPU has started generating electricity, FNPPs’ benefits are evident and attracting the interest of a number of potential customers, among them China and Indonesia, who have signed MoUs with Rosatom that cover cooperation in the construction of FNPPs.
Considering the growing global electricity consumption and the need to be able to supply it where and when it is needed, there can hardly be any doubt as to FNPPs’ future popularity and demand as a mobile, safe and self-contained source of low-carbon energy. Given that the Akademik Lomonosov is only the first in a line of floating NPPs Rosatom is working on, with the initial milestones in its journey, we are witnessing the dawn of a new era in small nuclear power solutions.