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Atomic Icebreakers

Length, m 148.0164.0173 meters193.6 200 meters
650 feet
Width, m 30.032.234 meters38.0
Depth, m 17.215.8...20.3
Draft, m meters13.0
Displacement, t 23,50032,40033,540 tonnes 55,600
Type of powerplant NPPNPPNPP
2 x RITM-200
2 x RITM-400
Shaftpower, MW 49 60...110 120
Number of propellers3 333
Speed, kn 20.822.3...24
Icebreaking capability, m2.252.92.8 meters @
1.5 to 2 knots
3.5 2 meters @
14 knots
4 meters @
2 knots
Endurance, days unlimited unlimited unlimitedunlimited unlimited

Russia is the only country to operate civilian nuclear-powered icebreakers in the Arctic, and it has been doing so for over 40 years. The first reactor for the Lenin icebreaker was developed in 1954-1956, and the ship itself entered service in 1959. Seven more icebreakers and an ocean-going cargo icebreaker were built in 1975-1992.

The start was a slow one. As early as 1948 the Russian director for Institute for Problems in Physics, Academician Anatoli Aleksandrov, wanted to see a nuclear-propulsion project established. However, Stalin's right-hand man, Beria, said that nothing was to be done until a nuclear bomb had been built. The bomb was finally ready, and on September 9, 1952, work on a submarine using a nuclear-propulsion reactor was officially initiated by the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union.

By 1985 the Soviet Union operated approximately 70 icebreakers of many types and 14 specialized icebreaking cargo ships of the SA-15 class. However, within this fleet only 16 vessels can be considered true polar icebreakers - large, powerful ships capable of independent operations in multi-year ice. These polar icebreakers, all built since 1959, are the mainstay of the Soviet Union's polar marine transportation system. Three classes of Finnish design - MOSKVA, YERMAK and KAPITAN SOROKIN - comprise 12 vessels. The nuclear fleet includes LENIN, LEONID BREZHNEV (ex-ARKTIKA), SIBIR and in 1985 ROSSIYA. As of 1985 two vessels of the new TAYMYR class and an additional ARKTIKA class ship were under construction. Each of these classes rank among the most capable and largest polar icebreakers in the world. A progression in design from deep-draft, conventional power to shallow-draft, nuclear power was evident. The main features and icebreaking performance of these capable ships compared favorably to the world fleet. The importance of these ships to the ice season extension along the Northern Sea Route and to the overall development of the Soviet Arctic is fundamental.

While only limited information is available about the design of the reactors used in Russian military naval vessels, the situation is different for the country's icebreakers. Here a significant amount of information is available on reactor design. The reactors are all pressurized water reactors. The development of a Russian marine reactor for civilian purposes started with the OK-150 power plant, which was the first plant used in the NS Lenin. Later on came the OK-900 and the KLT-40 plants. The OK-900 and the KLT-40 plants exist in various versions.

As of 2000, according to MSCO, 2 Arktika and 2 Taymyr class ice-breakers were needed during winter to maintain the year-round Murmansk-Dudinka line at a level of up to 1.4 mln tons of cargo annually210. Furthermore, MSCO claims that its present fleet will be capable of escorting annually up to 10 mln tons of hydrocarbons from future fields in ice-covered parts of the Kara and Barents Seas, as well as 3 mln tons of cargoes to/from the Yenisey River and eastern NSR (including transit trade and the year-round Dudinka trade). This scheme would employ all its 8 major ice-breakers - 2 Arktika-class and the 2 relatively old diesel-electric ice-breakers for the hydrocarbons export, and 2 Arktika-class and the 2 shallow-draft Taymyr-class ice-breakers for the escort of ships on the Yenisey River and the eastern NSR. If such a capacity to escort totally 13 mln tons of cargo annually can be sustained, it would be sufficient for several years to come. Even if the old diesel-electric ice-breakers were to disappear, the capacity would still be sufficient to accommodate the 5.0 mln tons of cargoes that had been estimated for 2005.

Funds for operating Russia's six operational nuclear-powered icebreakers and one nuclear-powered container ship were cut out of the federal funding in the 2003 budget. The federal budget had allotted $14.3m a year during the previous two years. To finance the operation of the nuclear icebreakers, Murmansk Shipping Company [MSCo] raised the cost of icebreaker services in the Arctic by a minimum of 50%. But even though Norilsk Nickel, the major customer of MSCo, agreed to the new rates, MSCo feared that cargo shipping volumes would drop.

By 2007 the Murmansk Shipping Company in Russia had the largest nuclear surface fleet in the world: five Artic-type icebreakers, two icebreakers designed to serve on rivers, and one nuclear-powered container ship. And the Lenin is not the only one that can claim a first. The Artika, which began operation in 1975, was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole.

In August 2008 Andrey Nagibin, Chairman of the Board of All-Russian Public Organization, stated that "Russia's strongest rival, the Untied States, is gradually losing its strength in the Arctic Sea because it has paid insufficient attention to the development of its nuclear icebreakers in the last years. Meanwhile, we are actively enlarging our fleet and can be sure that its placement under the management of Rosatom will help it to become the world's leader and will give our country all prerequisites for a victory in the "arctic race.""

In August 2008 Semyon Dragulsky, Director General of the Russian Energy Efficiency Union, said "The United States also has a very strong icebreaking fleet. But in the last years two 30-year US icebreakers - Polar Sea and Polar Star - and one smaller scientific icebreaker have almost exhausted their resources. So, it is yet unclear how our rival is going to explore the Arctic region in terms of both ecological safety (nuclear icebreakers are ecologically friendly) and economic efficiency (it is very hard to transport thousands of tons of diesel fuel for such long distances for ordinary icebreakers). Hence, nuclear icebreaking fleet has been and will be an important component of Russia's strategic power."

On 27 August 2008 Atomflot FSUE was given control over all the nuclear icebreakers of Russia: Lenin (1959), Arktika (1975), Siberia (1978), Russia (1985), Taymyr (1988), Soviet Union (1988), Vaygach (1990), Yamal (1992) and 50 Years Since Victory (2007). All the nuclear icebreakers of Murmansk Shipping Company were transferred to the Territorial Department for Murmansk region of Rosimuschestvo until 27 August 2008 and afterwards to Atomflot FSUE. In its turn, Atomflot was given to Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation.

Andrey Abramov, deputy director for special production and development of Atomflot FSUE, said in February 2008 that "In the last years "Atomflot" Federal State Unitary Enterprise has been abandoned by its managing structures, particularly, by the Ministry of Transport.... One of the key problems that we are trying to solve is the problem of postponed decisions concerning the accumulation of a big amount of radioactive waste and the aging of key assets. .... The policy of "postponed decisions" applied by "Murmansk Sea Company" in operating the nuclear icebreakers may result in much bigger expenses on their decommissioning. I mean that not all the decisions that company adopts are correct if viewed in complex. The federal target program for nuclear and radiation safety has proved Rosatom's efficiency in solving the key problems of the industry. It was due to Rosatom's support that we have managed to get financing for many of our problems. They have wise and far-seeing specialists, something, neither the Federal Sea and River Transport Agency nor the Ministry of Transport have."

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Page last modified: 08-08-2019 12:40:12 ZULU