Northern Sea Route Participants Council formed; work progressing on new nuclear icebreaker 

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Russia is working on mission mode to make year-round navigation a reality along the entire stretch of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in the Arctic Ocean by December 2024. Arctic shipping has been steadily developing over the past 5 years, which has already made possible year-round navigation in the NSR’s western sector. 

This was stated at the first meeting of the Council of the NSR Shipping Participants that took place on the sidelines of the 7th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok earlier this month. The Council of the NSR Shipping Participants is made up of the various parties involved, including fleet operators, cargo owners, and the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom as the NSR infrastructure operator and its single regulator. 

Rosatom operates nuclear powered icebreakers that help keep open the NSR for navigation. Earlier this year, Russia commissioned a new nuclear-powered icebreaker named Sibir, the first in a series of such icebreakers being constructed under its “Project 22220”, which will help keep the Northern Sea Route open for year-round shipping through the Arctic. In addition, Rosatom is equipping the NSR facilities, building port infrastructure, and developing transit.  

The Northern Sea Route via the Arctic is the shortest route between East Asian and Western European ports. Russia’s Far East and Arctic region have a great export potential due to the proximity of such countries as China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, among others. 

“Both consumers of our products and potential investors in the development of the Arctic are concentrated in the East. Our mission is to provide year-round navigation starting from December 2024”, Rosatom’s Special Representative for the Development of the Arctic, Vladimir Panov, said at the meeting.  

Panov also cited Russia’s Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic to say that new projects in the region will add 31.5 trillion rubles to the country’s GDP and yield more than 13 trillion rubles of taxes to the budget, adding up to the equivalent of nearly $100 billion. 

“Within the framework of the Council’s work, it is planned to discuss and develop proposals to improve the efficiency of interaction between operators of investment projects, shipping companies engaged in cargo transportation in the waters of the Northern Sea Route, and Rosatom as the NSR infrastructure operator” a Rosatom statement said following the Council’s first meeting.  

In his address, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said the Council is designed to cater to the need for coordination between consignors, shipping companies, the state, and infrastructure operators providing services like communication, data on the state of ice sheets, and weather conditions in order to develop optimal mechanisms for managing Arctic shipping. 

“Shipping along the Northern Sea Route has been actively developing in recent years. Consignors are building basic infrastructure – ports, ordering ships, tapping deposit resources. Both the number of vessels on the NSR and the number of shipping participants are steadily growing. Today, our common primary goal is safety, followed by other objectives that are just as important, namely, commercial attractiveness and sustainable navigation along the NSR. It is to solve these problems that the Council of the NSR Shipping Participants was created”, Likhachev said.  

During the meeting, the participants of the Council were presented with a report on improving ice forecasts in order to increase the efficiency of navigation in the Arctic. 

“Today we are in the active phase of implementing the measures of the Northern Sea Route Development Plan for the period up to 2035. The key measure of our work is the reliability of automated ice forecasts. By the end of 2024, it will be at least 90 percent for online forecasts”, said Dmitry Zaitsev, Deputy Head of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring. 

Nikolay Shabalin, Executive Director of the Marine Research Center of Lomonosov Moscow State University and Special Representative for Maritime Activities of Russia, made a presentation on ensuring environmental safety of navigation in the waters of the NSR. 

Meanwhile, Rosatom announced last week that ZiO-Podolsk, a subsidiary of its machine-building division Atomenergomash, has started welding the first girth seam on the half-vessel of the first RITM-200 reactor plant for Chukotka, the fourth serial new-generation nuclear-powered icebreaker. 

According to Rosatom, the small modular reactor (SMR) project based on RITM-200 reactors features compact design, modularity, short construction period and high safety standards with the service life exceeding 60 years.    

Rosatom’s flagship nuclear icebreaker Arktika, equipped with an RITM 200 reactor and integrated steam generator, has proved to be highly efficient.  It successfully navigated the shallow waters en route to the Arctica Gate oil terminal in May 2021, proving its suitability for both open sea, as well as polar river estuary operations.