Russia floating reactors concept spurs proliferation, terrorism fears

The Akademik Lomonosov: An artist's rendering of a floating nuclear power station currently under construction in Russia.

Russian efforts to make electricity available to isolated areas with a planned class of floating nuclear reactors could represent the most potentially disastrous idea to sweep the atomic power industry in years, due in part to the threat such plants would face from extremists and entities interested in tapping their technology for military use, Reuters on Monday quoted critics of the project as saying.

Russia is completing the first of a proposed fleet of no fewer than eight floating reactors, and the International Atomic Energy Agency foresees the establishment of between 40 and 90 modular plants within two decades.

“You can’t promise an inherently safe nuclear reactor … and by floating these things and towing them off to remote locations you multiply the risks,” said Mycle Schneider, an independent nuclear power consultant in Paris. “It’s entirely ridiculous.”

Andrey Fomichev, who oversees the St. Petersburg shipyard where the vessel for Russia’s first floating reactor is undergoing assembly, said the planned mobile plants could supply electricity to economically emerging regions, mechanical systems or armed forces outposts without the establishment of costly power networks.

“Such facilities can be built for the far north, the desert,” Fomichev said. “It’s a quick fix for hard-to-reach regions. Deploy it and you can build factories, army bases, oil rigs. You have electricity, water and heat.”

Former Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Bulat Nigmatulin, though, said it would be “simply crazy” to deploy a floating reactor to any location in the Pacific Ocean, where it could be overturned by a tsunami. “Everywhere else is full of pirates and terrorists,” he said.

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