Russia's got a floating nuclear plant on a barge, and it's heading for the Bering Strait — just a short hop from Alaska.
The "Akademik Lomonosov," according to a statement from Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, docked in the Russian port of Murmansk on Saturday (May 19). There it will receive its supply of nuclear fuel. Tugboats will eventually haul the nuclear plant to the town of Pevek in the Russian Far East — just 53 miles (86 kilometers), as Reuters noted, from the western edge of Alaska, across the Bering Strait.
The St. Petersburg-built power plant will replace a coal plant and an older, landlocked nuclear plant. It will serve a population of about 50,000 people, Rosatom said. [Top 10 Greatest Explosions Ever]
Rosatom pitches the Lomonosov as the first in a series of floating plants that will serve remote Russian communities and cut greenhouse gas emissions. There are objections from within the anti-nuclear wing of the environmental movement, which is represented by a subset of hardline environmental groups like Greenpeace and doesn't necessarily include all environmentalists.
In an April 26 blog titled "What Could Possibly Go Wrong with a Floating Nuclear Power Plant?" Greenpeace nuclear experts Jan Haverkamp and Rashid Alimov suggested these plants will primarily serve to power Russian fossil-fuel extraction efforts in the de-iced Arctic, and said, "If this development is not halted, the next nuclear catastrophe could well be a Chernobyl-on-ice or a Chernobyl-on-the-rocks."
Rosatom highlighted the potential for immediate emissions reductions and cited support from nuclear advocates. It said that no nuclear material would be left in the Arctic, and that in 40 or 50 years the plant will be towed away from the site for decommissioning.
Once the Lomonosov, with its two KLT-40 reactors — similar to reactors used to power Russian icebreaker ships — is hooked up to the power grid along the Bering Strait, it will be the only floating plant of its kind in the world.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. planned to park a floating reactor off the coast of New Jersey, as Matt Reimann reported for Timeline. It was planned as the first in a series of floating reactors built with the idea that construction costs would drop if all the necessary skilled labor were located in one place, before the plants were shipped elsewhere. However plans for the plant were scrapped as energy became less profitable during the 1973 oil embargo.
Originally published on Live Science.