Russia launches nuclear-powered ice-breaker for year round access to Arctic

In a bid to tab the commercial potential of the Arctic Ocean, Russia recently launched a nuclear powered ice-breaker. World powers have been making a move to stake a claim on the so far non-navigational Arctic Ocean as the climate change has result in ice melt.

The nuclear-powered icebreaker is named Ural and was floated out from a dockyard in St. Petersburg. It is one of the planned three ships that will be the biggest and most powerful ice breaker flotilla in the world. The Ural will be handed over to Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom in 2022 as two other icebreakers of the same series enter service subsequently. They would be christened Aktika (Arctic) and Sibir (Suberia).

Russia’s ice-breaker launch comes amidst the world seeing an increased traffic via the Northern Sea Route, which owing to the climate change is going to be navigable round the year. The Ural will be operated by a crew of 75 people and would be able to cut through ice up to 3 metres of thickness.

“The Ural together with its sisters are central to our strategic project of opening the NSR to all-year activity,” Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s chief executive, was quoted saying. By making the NSR navigational throughout the year, Moscow hopes to cut down on transport times from Asia to Europe. “Our goal for 2024 is for more than 80 million metric tons of shipments to pass through the NSR. We also plan to add two more project 22220 ships to our nuclear icebreaker fleet by 2027. The contract for construction of these icebreakers is expected to be signed by the end of this August,” Likhachev was quoted as saying in a press release issued by Rosatom, a firm that has been the main suppliers of equipment to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu, India.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had underscored the boosting of freight traffic through Arctic Coast an important strategic project in April earlier and said the construction of ice-breakers would be stepped up considerably. Russia has an ambitious programme to operate at least 13 heavy-duty icebreakers by 2035 and nine of them will be run on atomic power. The Russian government has given Rosatom the lead in the development of the NSR infrastructure. In pursuant of this the total amount of funding for the NSR development project is 734.9 billion roubles (approx. USD 11.4 billion) for six years. Up to a third of that will be provided from the government budget. The remaining two-thirds will be funded by investors, including Rosatom, Rosneft and Novatek and others, who are interested in transporting cargo along the Arctic sea route.

The accessibility of NSR around the year will also give India the opportunity to access the resource rich Arctic. Last year during his visit to India, President Putin had offered India access to the NSR that can help India’s growing energy demands by shortening the shipping distance between Europe and Indo-Pacific. A joint statement after the annual summit had a clear mention of cooperation in the Arctic region. “The two governments also expressed support to companies from both sides for development of cooperation and exploring opportunities for joint development of oil fields in Russian territory, including on the Arctic shelf, and projects on the shelf of the Pechora and Okhotsk Seas,” the joint statement read.

Countries like Canada, the United States, Norway and relatively newcomer China have already been making a rush to dominate the so far unchartered sea waters in the northern hemisphere. The developed countries are eyeing the Arctic has it has huge reserves of oil and gas. The US Geological Survey estimates put the reserves to be around 412 billion barrels of oil, which amounts to 22 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.