The US Navy currently operates a lot of small ship-born nuclear reactors. Every submarine (with the exception of SEAL Delivery Vehicles/Advanced Swimmer delivery systems) has a nuclear reactor. Likewise the Navy’s aircraft carriers are nuclear powered. I’m a proponent of nuclear power in these applications because it makes sense. The British, by contrast, cite the cost of nuclear reactors for ships, suggesting that it’s cheaper to simply buy oil. Since they spend a lot of time in port, that makes perfect sense.
|Russian nuclear power generating station (barge)|
Ever since I heard that the Russians were building nuclear barges to haul from place to place, I’ve been thinking on the subject. It makes no sense for the US, but the Russians have a lot of problems that the US doesn’t worry about. Russia is 9 time zones long and it’s almost all ice-bound in the winter. In the winter in Russia, rail is the only reliable means of transportation – still. And there are a lot of isolated places that need electric power and the transmission lines run a long way to get there. During winter, those lines often go down. Thus the concept of electricity-generating nuclear reactors on barges that could be towed from place to place along the sea coast and possibly down navigable rivers in Russia.
|The barge is not much different than a Russian icebreaker
that never moves anywhere and doesn’t break ice.
Even though the first few floating nuclear power plants are designed to power offshore drilling platforms in the Arctic, the concept of using them to augment Russia’s spotty power grid in remote areas is bring ‘floated’. (pardon the pun)
(The Week) Still, the barges themselves don’t seem to be any more dangerous than Russia’s nuclear-powered ice-breaker ships, which use the same KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors. The reactor-equipped barges would hold 69 people, and would have to be towed to their locations. They would also be able to power 200,000 homes, and could be modified to desalinate 240,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Each barge’s set of two KLT-40 reactors would produce 70 megawatts of electricity — nothing to laugh at, but far less than the 3,937 megawatts produced at America’s largest nuclear power plant in Palo Verde, Ariz. Russia’s Rosenergoatom, the state-owned builder of the floating power plants, says it will keep the enrichment levels far below the weapons-grade threshold established by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The Russian Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s proven oil reserves and Russia’s only serious money making export is oil. So funding these barges is in place and Russia plans to roll out the first ‘floating Chernobyl’ in 2016.
Russian Nuclear Accidents at sea (historical) – Source: Wikipedia
- K-8 (1960; November-class submarine; loss of coolant)
- K-19 (1961; Hotel-class submarine; two loss of coolant accidents, 27 killed due to one accident)
- K-11 (1965; November-class submarine; two refueling criticalities)
- K-159 (1965; November-class submarine; radioactive discharge)
- Lenin (1965; Lenin-class icebreaker; loss of coolant)
- Lenin (1967; Lenin-class icebreaker; loss of coolant)
- K-140 (1968; Yankee-class submarine; power excursion)
- K-8 (loss of coolant) (1970; November-class submarine; sank after fire, 52 killed)
- K-320 (1970; Charlie I-class submarine; uncontrolled startup)
- K-116 (1979; Echo II-class submarine; reactor accident)
- K-122 (1980; Echo I-class submarine; fire, 14 killed)
- K-222 (1980; Papa-class submarine; uncontrolled startup)
- K-27 (1982; Modified November-class submarine; scuttled)
- K-123 (1982; Alfa-class submarine; loss of coolant)
- K-429 (1983; Charlie I-class submarine; sank due to improper work at shipyard, 16 killed)
- K-431 (1985; Echo II-class submarine; refueling criticality, 10 killed)
- K-429 (1985; Charlie I-class submarine; sank at moorings)
- K-219 (1986; Yankee I-class submarine; sank after collision, 6 killed)
- K-278 Komsomolets (1989; Mike class submarine; sank, 42 killed)
- K-192 (1989; Echo II-class submarine; loss of coolant)
- K-159 (2003; November-class submarine; sank under tow, 9 killed)
Despite the less-than-stellar Russian naval reactor program, both China and Indonesia are lining up to buy some of these floating nuclear power generation barges. The Indonesians to use them, the Chinese to copy them and make their own. The practical truth is that the Russians currently operate nuclear submarines and ice breakers and their safety record has improved since the days of the old Soviet Union.