Rosatom’s floating NPP: On a wave for future energy
Floating nuclear power unit (FNPU) is a new breed energy source designed by Rosatom on the basis of Russian nuclear-powered shipbuilding technologies that holds enormous promise for the Middle East’s quest to ramp up electric power supply amid fast-rising demand
On October 2, 2018 Rosatom reported that it completed loading nuclear fuel into the second of two reactors of the world’s only floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) “Akademik Lomonosov”, which is based in Murmansk.
This Northern Russian port is an intermediate stop on its first maiden voyage from the Baltic shipyard in Saint Petersburg, where it was assembled and launched this spring, to the Chukotka peninsula in Russia’s Far East, where it will be stationed.
It is expected to start generating power in late 2019, marking a major milestone not just in the history of world’s civil nuclear power industry, but also in the highly anticipated energy trend of supplying power on demand, whenever and wherever it is needed.
This trend is driven by the need to power up the development of remote and poorly accessible areas – a matter of strategic national importance for many countries regardless of climate conditions: in the Middle East, with its vast desert regions, in Southeast Asia, with its insular territories, in South America’s remote mountainous areas, and in the extreme North.
Supplying electricity to these areas using traditional power generation in the form of large power plants (whether they be hydro-, coal- or nuclear powered) is a highly complex task due to the limitations of land area and resources. Moreover, depending on local population and industries’ needs a small or medium power plant is typically a more reasonable and cost-effective solution.
At the time being, the Akademik Lomonosov (named after the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov) is at the forefront of this new trend, being the first in a planned series of unique mobile small power units. The Rosatom-designed and constructed plant has a power output of 70MWe and a projected operational lifetime of 40 years.
Once loading of nuclear fuel in reactors No.1 and No.2 of the FNPP has been completed, the next key stage would be their first criticality after the corresponding permit is received from the Russian regulator, Rostechnadzor. Then, the system functional check will follow, which are necessary before the reactor is brought to design capacity.
In 2019, the FNPP will be towed to the seaport city of Pevek (Chukotka region). Presently, construction of necessary coastal infrastructure, hydraulic structures and on-shore site are being carried out. These facilities are necessary to ensure safe riding and receipt of the energy bridge for electric connections and energy release to the shore.
The FNPP in Pevek will replace the phasing out capacities at Bilibino NPP and Chaunskaya Co-Gen Plants, and become the baseline power generation facility in Chukotka supplying over 50 000 people with electricity and reducing the carbon footprint in the Arctic by tens of thousands of CO2 emissions per year.
This operation is crucial as it will showcase the success of the first floating power plant in the world. The success of the FNPP will be good news to regions such as the Middle East where diversification of power generation is in high gear to cope with growing electric power demand.
Floating nuclear power plants’ advantages are both obvious and unique. FNPPs’ mobility means it can easily be moved from one site to another if needed, making them a perfect fit for remote coastal and riparian areas far removed from the centralised grid systems.
Secondly, FNPP is a fully autonomous power facility that is built entirely in a shipyard and then towed to the place of its operation. It means the customers will be getting a fully assembled, tried and tested, and ready-to-go solution complete with staff living quarters and all the requisite infrastructure for servicing the FNPP.
The project also incorporates a number of innovative solutions in the field of safety and resistance to extreme natural conditions being compliant with all the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. The FNPP safety solutions exceed all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors impervious to emergency situations such as being hit by a tsunami or a collision with another vessel or onshore object. The stress tests conducted at the “Akademik Lomonosov” before its launch proved that both the vessel and the reactor are highly resistant to such external shocks as earthquakes and tsunami waves, safeguarding against any radiation impact on the environment or people’s health.
In addition to power generation, FNPPs can also contribute to solving other important issues that remain high on many countries’ agendas, such as freshwater deficiency, a problem especially pressing in arid desert regions of the Middle East. Thus, the FNPP can be integrated with a floating desalination facility into a floating nuclear power and desalination complex supplying both electricity and drinking water.
FNPPs are mobile and highly flexible in terms of meeting different countries’ needs and operational conditions. FNPPs can be adapted to operate in virtually any climate, from the extreme north to the tropical belt. Their output can also be adjusted to align with the daily and seasonal electricity consumption cycles.
Last but not least, like all nuclear power plants, FNPPs produce no CO2 or other polluting emissions, and upon decommissioning, they are reverted into a greenfield site, thus being a source of clean energy and helping to preserve the environment for future generations.
Even before the world’s unique FNPU starts generating electricity, the benefits of FNPPs are already evident and they continue to generate a lot of interest from potential corporate customers.
Considering the growing demand for electricity globally and the need to be able to supply it where and when it is needed, the future for FNPPs looks bright due to their growing popularity as a mobile, safe and self-contained source of low-carbon energy.
It is a long-awaited technical solution in many parts of Northern Russia but one that holds immense promise for the future electric needs of many countries in the Middle East and North African region.