So far the floating nuclear reactors in the world have been used for propulsion in the aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered submarine or in ice-breakers. But the arrival of the Russian-built Akademik Lomonosov to the far eastern port of Russia last month has piqued the interest of the world and now it awaits as the reactor will be connected to the power grid by the end of this year. Experts in India are also watching the developments closely as the nuclear power innovation could prove to be an answer to the country’s power woes as it has 7516 km long coastline.
Christened after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the world’s first civil floating nuclear power reactor, reached Pevek, Chukotka (in Russia’s Far East) and it will provide power to 100,000 strong population through its two reactors with a capacity of 35 MW each.
Unlike the land-based nuclear power plants, the floating nuclear power plant is located on a platform at sea and would not require elaborate viability studies required in the land-based atomic power stations. In a highly populated country like India, land-based power stations have invited protests from the local population whose land is being acquired. Observers of the field contend that the need of the hour for India is to explore new frontiers of nuclear energy technology.
“There is an urgent requirement of exploring new frontiers of nuclear energy technology as it is one of the potential viable energy source for the entire world. Non-proliferation resistant and disaster-proof nuclear technology is the way out. In this process, floating reactor concept is very innovative though yet to be proven,” Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Studies at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar Dr. Sitakanta Mishra told Nuclear Asia.
So far only two countries Russia and China are experimenting with the idea of floating nuclear reactor. The Russian floating atomic power station is expected to provide electricity and heat to remote areas and can also provide drinking water to dry areas through desalination techniques. Talking on the occasion of the arrival of Akademik Lomonosov to Pevek, Rosatom’s head Alexei Likhachev said: “It is perhaps a small step towards sustainable development in the Arctic — but it is a giant step towards decarbonisation of remote, off-grid zones and a turning point in the global development of small modular nuclear plants.” The Russian nuclear energy giant added in a statement: “The reactors have the potential to work particularly well in regions with extended coastlines, power supply shortages, and limited access to electrical grids. The plant can be positioned at any point along a coast and connected to existing electrical grids.”
In its statement Rosatom said that various countries in Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia have expressed interest in the technology; and buoyed by this the company has started working on the second-generation floating nuclear power plants.
China, on the other hand, has an extensive plan to build about 20 floating nuclear power reactors in the coming decade. Its first floating nuclear plant is already under construction and is expected to be deployed by 2021. China has channelized its enormous resources to develop the floating nuclear power plants to use the electricity generated for its offshore oil industry and to sustain the Chinese civilian presence in the Paracel and Spartly Islands in the South China Sea.
The floating nuclear power plant has certain advantages over the land-based reactors as the former can be small and modular bringing down the cost. Also, moving them to sea has lower environmental impact and can provide power to remote areas with more efficiency. Speaking to Nuclear Asia Professor of Nuclear Engineering and former Chairman Of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, Prof Dr. Shafiqul Islam Bhuiyan applauded the development in the nuclear energy technology. “It is a turning point, a monumental achievement by Rosatom, world’s first floating Nuclear Power Station completed 5000 kilometer transfer. Industrial production of ‘Small Modular Reactor’ (SMR) is a Revolution in the Global Nuclear Industry,” Prof. Dr. Bhuiyan said. Bangladesh has recently forayed in to the nuclear power field and is constructing its first nuclear power plant at Rooppur under a tripartite agreement with Russia and India. The country is keenly observing the innovations in the sector.
Recounting the advantages of the floating nuclear power plants, Prof. Dr. Bhuiyan added: “It is designed to meet the energy needs of the remote and inaccessible communities. The points to ponder are – it is an SMR, can be built in the supplier country, on a floating platform/ berge, can be towed to any destination in the world, can be connected to grid, the wide power range from 35 MW to 1000MW. Dubbed as ‘Nuclear Titanic’ by the Greenpeace is finally a booming success story in Nuclear Technology.”
The Indian establishment despite looking to further its share of nuclear power is yet to start thinking about the new technology. “Though the GCNEP (Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership), India’s centre for excellence, is mandated to explore new frontiers of nuclear technology, it is not yet thinking to explore and suggest floating reactor concept. Nevertheless, India would be more than willing to involve in every new nuclear technology, just the way it became a major stakeholder in the ITER (International Thermo-nuclear Experimental Reactor),” Dr. Mishra added.
Despite, its numerous benefits, the experts are cautious about the technology especially in cyclone prone areas and those region falling in Tsunami zone. Mohan Guruswamy, the head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, told Nuclear Asia: “Floating reactors are still to be found commercially viable. Many safety issues involved, particularly in cyclone and storm prone areas.” A way out could be the amendments to the terms of the 1994 Convention on Nuclear Safety that requires the land-based nuclear power plants to meet standards for the design, construction, and operation of civilian nuclear facilities, and submit regular reports on their nuclear programs for review by other countries. The treaty could also be amended to include floating nuclear power plants too.