Russia’s nuclear company Rosatom is preparing to launch the world’s first floating nuclear plant in the Arctic Ocean — a project already drawing comparisons to past nuclear disasters.
The Akademik Lomonosov plant will be sailing off in a few weeks but for now, the ship is anchored in Murmansk, a Russian town only 200km from the Norwegian border.
It will then be towed 5000km through the Northern Sea Route to Pevek where it's meant to provide heat and energy to local homes and help out with mining and drilling operations in Russia's Chukotka region.
The 140-metre-long by 30-metre-wide ship that can transport 69 sailors at an average speed of four knots (7.5 km/h) in favourable conditions, is "designed for operation in the Far North and the Far East.
Its main goal is to provide energy to remote industrial enterprises, port cities, as well as gas and oil platforms located in the sea," Rosatom said in a statement.
It also has a "large margin of safety, which exceeds all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors invulnerable to tsunamis and other natural disasters."
The vessel is equipped with "two KLT-40S reactor plants, which are capable of generating up to 70 MW of electric power and 50 Gcal/h of thermal energy in the nominal operating mode, which is sufficient to maintain the life of a city with a population of about 100 thousand people," the statement added.
Russia's nuclear company also claimed the ship is "virtually unsinkable" and will not be affected by collisions with icebergs.
However, environmental NGOs have raised safety concerns concerning the project, with Greenpeace calling the nuclear plant a “Chernobyl on ice”.
"If a nuclear or radiation accident occurs in the Arctic, it will be much more difficult to eliminate its consequences than in Chernobyl.
"Liquidators will face harsh weather conditions, and hundreds or even thousands of kilometres can separate them from the necessary infrastructure.
"In such circumstances, no one has ever eliminated nuclear accidents, no one has such experience, and Rosatom is not ready for this," said Konstantin Fomin, Greenpeace’s Arctic expert in a statement.
Greenpeace also warned of the ship's potential to accelerate the melting of icebergs in the Arctic, increasing the possibility for an environmental catastrophe.
"According to official plans, the floating nuclear power plant will be used for oil, gas and coal production in the Arctic.
"But burning fossil fuels is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases, due to which climate change and the melting of the Arctic are occurring," it said.
Greenpeace also said Russia is betting on global warming and glaciers melting the Arctic to increase their oil production and underground mining (copper and gold) activities.
In a statement to Euronews, Rosatom called Greenpeace's "Chernobyl on ice" comment, "nothing but clickbait and scaremongering," adding there was no credible evidence to back the accusation.
Rosatom defended their project by stating that nuclear energy "is the only low-carbon source of energy available in the Arctic region".
"Neither solar nor wind could ensure uninterrupted electricity supply in polar night when there is no wind and temperatures are well below zero.
In reality, this anti-nuclear agenda boosts the continued reliance on fossil fuels, causing harmful emissions and air pollution which is, according to the UN, responsible for one premature death every five seconds."
“Rejecting nuclear power on the basis of contrived nightmare scenarios comes at a price of very real consequences of climate change and the damage to the Arctic becoming irreversible."
Russia's nuclear company said it was time for Greenpeace to "take a sanity check" and work with them to ensure a "cleaner, greener world".