Russia commissions new nuclear-powered icebreaker ‘Sibir’


Russia has 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, Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom has announced.  

A Rosatom statement said that while the Sibir was commissioned on December 24, 2021, the nuclear icebreakers  Ural, Yakutia, and Chukotka are currently under construction in St. Petersburg.  

“The Project 22220 icebreakers will help unleash the traffic potential of the Northern Sea Route. Arctica, the flagship versatile nuclear icebreaker, is operating in the Northern Sea Route right now. The nuclear icebreaker is escorting a convoy towards Pevek Port”, the statement said.  

“The commissioning of the first-in-series versatile nuclear icebreaker Sibir will strengthen Atomflot’s position in the Arctic. We believe that the efficient operation of such icebreakers is a key factor to enable the sustainable development of the Northern Sea Route navigation”, said Atomflot CEO, Mustafa Kashka. Atomflot is a Rosatom group company.

Rosatom also said that the flagship nuclear icebreaker Arctica, 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. 

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) via the Arctic is the shortest route between East Asian and Western European ports. The nautical distance between Shanghai and Rotterdam via the NSR is expected to be 30 percent shorter than the Suez Canal route, saving travel time by 10–12 days. Similarly, the distance between Yokohama and Rotterdam will be reduced by half. 

The NSR is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s flagship projects, and Russia has set a target of transporting 80 million tonnes of cargo along the route by 2024. 

During the 21st edition of the India-Russia summit held in New Delhi last month, India indicated its interest in partnering with Russia on the Northern Sea Route. In September, addressing the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok via video link, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “India and Russia are partners in space exploration through the Gaganyan program. Russia and India will also be partners in opening up the Northern Sea Route for international trade and commerce.” 

In this connection, both President Putin and Prime Minister Modi have flagged the Vladivostok to Chennai shipping route, especially to bolster India’s energy security. In fact, the first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russian Siberia has already set sail for India through the Northern Sea Route.