The Akademik Lomonosov

This floating Chernobyl is heading to the Arctic...

L’Akademik Lomonosov is not a ship like any other. It is a floating nuclear power plant, designed by the Russians to supply energy to the northernmost parts of the planet. Currently moored in the port of Murmansk, this ship with two nuclear reactors of 35 MW each will begin a 5000 km crossing of the Arctic. A journey with high environmental risks, in one of the most fragile areas of the world; but in the background, the ferocious appetites of those who want to conquer and colonize the new spaces left by the melting ice and global warming are taking shape.
She construction started ten years ago. Today, theAkademik Lomonosov is ready for the big trip. It looks like a huge ship, 144 metres long, but it is not. It is a huge floating barge, in the bowels of which are nestled two KLT-40S nuclear reactors capable of supplying 70 MW, enough electricity for a city of 100,000 inhabitants. The enriched uranium needed to run the reactors has already been loaded during the ship's stay in Murmansk in the far north-west of Russia, just a few cables away from Norway. Everything is therefore ready to embark on a crazy 5,000 km maritime adventure through Arctic waters to reach the port of Pewek, in the far east of Russia. The 69-strong crew is all dressed up. Trumpets and brass bands will not be lacking when this monster sets sail, but so will the worries. The excellent and successful series Chernobyl feeds the spectre of the accident and makes the reassuring words of Russian officials sound irresistibly suspicious.

Nuclear Titanic

When engineers at Russian nuclear giant Rosatom said, " the double-level reactor containment is perfectly sealed "One cannot fail to imagine this gigantic barge, weighing 21,500 tonnes, stuffed with enriched uranium and towed by small tugs amidst the waves, ice and icebergs of the far North. To further reassure us, Russian engineers loudly and clearly state that this ship is "... a ship of the future". unsinkable ». The last time we heard that qualifier about a boat, we know what happened.
Environmental organizations are vehemently warning of the risks of such an undertaking. This is the case of Greenpeace, which will escort the ship on its perilous voyage: " With its flat bottom and no propulsion system, it's like throwing a nuclear power plant on a wooden pallet and drifting into the world's roughest waters."
It is true that the huge area on which theAkademik Lomonosov going sailing is no big, quiet lake. It's one of the most dangerous oceans in the world. Ships have to squeeze through huge blocks of ice, and even with the dramatic warming of the region, the risk of collision and entrapment in the frozen waters exists. In addition, there are researchers have recently shown that global warming, by pouring millions of tons of melted ice into the ocean, has multiplied the height and strength of the waves. In contrast to a few years ago, the Arctic has such large areas of open water that the wavesIn the past few years, storm surges and submerged waves have multiplied, making navigation extremely difficult. Breakers are becoming more and more frequent and a swell of up to 9 metres is no longer an occasional event.
It is in this rough landscape that the Russian ship will sail. Unlike a nuclear power plant built on land, the reactors of theAkademik Lomonosov do not have containment facilities. Despite what Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy agency, may claim, the risks to the environment are major. Especially since, according to Greenpeace, no independent risk assessment has been carried out. The Russians have worked in their corner and say - and we must believe them - that their nuclear power station ship is perfectly safe. The floating power plant is designed to withstand tsunamis and other natural disasters, says Rosatom: "It's not just a floating power plant, it's a nuclear power plant. All nuclear processes on board comply with the safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency and pose no threat to the environment. "says the firm in a news release. It is however to this same agency that the sad record of the number of nuclear accidents with Chernobyl or the sinking of the submarine Kursk is due. According to Russian environmental activist Alexander Nikitin of the Bellona Foundation, the seabed in Chazhma Bay near Vladivostok in the Pacific is still contaminated after an accident during the refuelling of a nuclear submarine in 1985.

The NGO Greenpeace isrestless of the very design of the boat. Its flat bottom makes it particularly vulnerable to stormy events at sea. A large wave could throw it ashore and smash it. What's more, the ship can't move by itself. It needs tugs. However, in the event of danger, such as the threat of an iceberg for example, the ship will not be able to break free on its own. It is an inert lead mass, offered to the whims of the ocean. The slightest collision could damage its vital functions, lead to a loss of power and damage the cooling functions of nuclear reactors. We know the consequences: release of radioactive substances into the environment, or even an explosion as in Chernobyl or Fukushima. Indeed, in the event of accidental collapse, the nuclear core of the reactors will be cooled by sea water; but when the fuel rods come into contact with sea water this will first cause an explosion, followed by potential hydrogen explosions causing a large quantity of radioactive isotopes to spread in the atmosphere.
There is also the issue of waste. The reactors in this floating plant will have to be refuelled every two or three years. The radioactive waste will therefore be stored on board for a long period of time, floating on the ocean. A radioactive Arctic is not, frankly, a bright future that everyone dreams of.
Fears of nuclear contamination are already confirmed. Norwegian researchers from reveal have detected radioactive Cobalt-60 in Svanhovd and Viksjøfjell, stations located near the Kola Peninsula which opens the entrance to Murmansk harbour. However, it is there that theAkademik Lomonosov is moored and has proceeded to load its nuclear reactors. Cobalt-60 is a short-lived radioactive isotope that is produced in particular by nuclear reactors. The concentration levels recorded by the Norwegians are low (0.5 microbecquerel per cubic metre of air) and do not pose a risk to human health. For the time being.
Concern nourished by the opacity of Russian atomic procedures in this case. The project was carried out from start to finish without the intervention of independent experts, but under the sole control of the Russian Atomic Energy Commission.organizations Russian states. As usual, one might say, as this was the case for all Russian nuclear projects, including Chernobyl before and after the disaster.

Northern routes in the spotlight

In spite of all these risks, the Russian nuclear power plant will start up in a few days. Its final destination is the port of Pewek at the easternmost tip of Siberia. This isolated commune at the end of the world has 5,000 inhabitants. The floating nuclear power plant is intended to supply it with electricity from the end of 2019. But it is designed to supply energy to more than 100,000 inhabitants. Look for the mistake. There are no mistakes, because Russia is following a perfectly logical plan. It predicts when global warming will have made the ice in Siberian ports disappear, boosting oil extraction and the Arctic economy. An absurd situation where a nuclear power plant is designed to supply electricity to the oil, gas, coal and fossil fuel industries in the north. An absurdity that responds to a major geo-strategic issue, that of the rush for northern roads.
For Pewek occupies a special place in the legendary "Northeast Passage", which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This small Siberian village is destined to become a huge industrial centre on a road that will become one of the busiest in the world. To achieve this, Moscow is multiplying titanic infrastructure projects; President Putin has invested a budget of 735 billion rubles, or more than ten billion euros over ten years. To ensure the industrial development of this northern route, an operator is on the move: Rosatom, again. L’Akademik Lomonosov is just one of his projects. It has also launched the construction, by 2035, of 13 giant icebreakers, nine of which are nuclear-powered. The last, theUrallaunched last May, is a monster capable of breaking up to three metres of ice. The objective is to ensure the navigability of the strategic corridor throughout the year.

The "blessing" of global warming

Russia's industrial projects are encouraged by global warming. In a few decades, the Arctic ice cap has lost almost half of its surface area. And it's not over yet. Scientists observing the melting ice pack are alarmed; according to the calculations specialists in the National Snow and Ice Data Center of the United States located in Boulder, Colorado, the Arctic sea ice coverage has decreased by 13.2 % per decade in September of each year. Since satellite records began in 1979, the twelve lowest levels have all been recorded in the last twelve years. The lowest record was reached in 2012, with 3.39 million square kilometres.
These effects of global warming are a blessing for Vladimir Putin, who has high hopes for the opening of this road that will transform the geography of globalisation. Already, hundreds of ships of all kinds are crowding at the gates of this corridor. All you have to do is go to to observe, in a few clicks and in real time, a host of oil tankers, cargo ships, research vessels, fishing boats. There are even a few cruise ships that ply these waters.
Russia is not alone in seeing this opening as a boon to give new impetus to the once inhospitable but extraordinarily resource-rich lands of northern Russia. China also sees it as a way of extending its famous "Silk Road" and flooding the Western world with even more products and raw materials. By passing through the North, Chinese goods save 40 % of travel time compared to those using the Suez Canal. The Arctic is becoming the royal road for the container ships and tankers that are the lifeblood of the global economy.

READ UP : Arctic routes are opening up and the geography of globalization is changing.

Until not so long ago, the area was of interest mainly to explorers, scientists and local fishing communities. Today it is considered an oil field and a waterway. Russia, Denmark, Canada, Norway and the United States are already asserting their rights - and other countries, such as China, are scrambling to fish, drill and cross. The region, which should be a "common good", is becoming an explosive zone of international tension. The Washington Post cites testimony before the US Senate by the former head of the US Pacific Naval Command, Admiral Harry Harris, currently US Ambassador to South Korea. He said, " Of particular note are Russia's efforts to strengthen its presence and influence in the High North. Russia has more bases north of the Arctic Circle than all the other countries combined, and is building more with distinctly military capabilities. "
Arctic Bowhead Whale
This rush by the major powers with their armadas of tankers is worrying environmental protection associations, which fear industrial accidents and uncontrolled pollution threatening a hitherto relatively unspoiled ecosystem. With Arctic shipping routes increasingly used by merchant shipping, an ice-free Arctic Ocean could test the resilience and adaptability of marine mammals. Narwhals, walruses, bowhead whales and beluga whales are at high risk from shipping traffic. Scientists such as Donna Hauser point out in an study It has recently come to light that cetaceans that inhabit the Arctic are migratory animals that follow routes that have been established for generations. They are also loyal to certain feeding sites in highly productive waters. The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route juxtapose these popular feeding grounds and fall migration routes. In addition, certain geographic areas form a bottleneck, causing ships and marine mammals to share a very limited territory. Baffin Bay, Bering Strait and Lancaster Sound are areas where the Northwest Passage directly encroaches on the range of marine mammal populations.



The towing of theAkademik Lomonosov is just one part of a much larger project. It is part of a long mature strategy of opportunistic conquest of territories liberated by nature. Territories where one can drill, extract, pollute, consume, trample, without limits. A natural sanctuary that is becoming an industrial nightmare. No lessons seem to have been learned from the damage caused by man's industrial voracity. The planet and especially the human species are under threat, but we continue to grow, business as usual. Always with this obsession with fossil industries and this contempt for alternatives. For the Arctic could have been the ideal landscape for all sorts of experiments in marine renewable energy such as wind power. But the choice to make it dirty was made.
L’Akademic Lomonosov is only the beginning of what is destined to become widespread in the world. The Russians want to make this boat the prototype of a long series; a sort of floating showcase to bring its nuclear industry to areas of the world where it is expensive to set up. A mobile nuclear industry capable of dispersing small-scale nuclear reactors in all regions of the world. Russia is not alone in forging this dream: other projects of the same type are being studied in China or the United States. Smaller reactors, everywhere, which will multiply the risks and make them increasingly uncontrollable.

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