Russians float their nuclear ideas

Posted September 30, 1997

Russia plans to build small new-generation floating nuclear reactors for use in electricity production and water desalination. The design is being developed by a Minatom mechanical engineering unit in Nizhny Novgorod, and the Kurchatov Atomic Energy Institute in Moscow.

AT present 20% of the total cost of 250 million for the lead unit has now been provided via Minatom. Construction should start early next year in the town of Pevek in the Chukotskiy region in the far north-east, and completed by the end of the century. It will be the first of 15 small floating reactors designed to bring electricity to remote regions of the Arctic. Russia also hopes to export the design for power supply and water desalination applications.

The proposal involves the use of two KLT-40 35 MWe reactors aboard a 160m long unpropelled steel barge. As well as the reactors, the barge will have 4 more units, either power plants or desalination plants, or a combination, plus living quarters for 60 workers.

The KLT-40 nuclear reactors are presently used in nuclear powered ice-breakers, and already have a repair free life span of 110,000 hours. They can operate continuously without maintenance for periods of up to 9000 hours in harsh Arctic conditions. Several KLT-40s are currently in use, and facilities are being developed in Murmansk for mass production in serial of all the componentry, as well as refuelling and waste management facilities.


Russia intends to build several floating power stations to service the 20 million people living in remote communities in the Arctic Circle and the Bering Strait. The advantage of the floating power plants, is that they will not require refuelling for up to 4 years, will operate for up to 40 years, being interupted every 13 years for a return to Murmansk for maintenance.

The Kurchatov Institute also calculates that the power produced would be five times cheaper than from other available sources (10cents/kWh), and that the reactors will pay for themselves after only 10 years. The areas in question are generally cut off from the grid, and transporting oil and other fuels is rohibitively expensive.

Negotiations are under way with China, Indonesia and The Phillipines, with regard to possible export sales.


Experts in the US estimate that by the year 2000 the shortfall of fresh water in the mediterranean and the Middle East will rise to 12 million cu m per day. In some areas of India, Pakistan, China and South and Cetral America the deficit is already over 10 million cu m daily.

Russian engineers are proposing that floating nuclear power plants are the answer. Studies have shown that a cost of $1 per cu m is theoretically possible. Current costs range from $1.5 to $4 / cu m.

The initial design, the APWS-40, can supply up to 80,000 cu m of fresh water daily for 25 years at a refuelling cycle of 2-3 years.


The design of the KLT-40 follows two lines: first incorporate every conceivable feature to enhance its inherent safety properties, second build up a multiple protection system using passive principles (eg gravity, condensation, natural convection) without requiring water or power from the outside.

The physical properties of the reactor core allow the power output to be controlled automatically, without operator interference. The unit is equipped with multiple standby active and passive safety systems designed on diverse operating principles, which give it a high level of immunity to human error and equipment failures.

Furthermore, this "self-protective" reactor is encased in a containment able to withstand high over-pressure. Precautions have also been taken against collision with another craft or impact by flying objects.

The main hull and superstructure framework is made from D40 steel, which has a high resistance to brittle fracture under low temperature conditions. The hull will be a completely welded structure, reinforced against ice.

The reactors are expected to produce 0.02 to 0.65 cu m of HL waste per annum, and is to be handled at a dedicated plant in or near Murmansk, using techniques already developed for Russia's fleet of nuclear ice-breakers.

The KLT-40 design meets Russian nuclear safety and radiological regulations, and also takes into account IAEA recommendations onsafety provisions.

Greig Ebeling.
with thanks to Ian Hore-Lacy, UIC, Australia.


"Russia: Floating N-Plant Scheme Gets Headwind", NucNet No.217
"Russians Float Their APWS-40 Idea" - Leonid Vexler and Yuri Panov, Nuclear Engineering International, Dec 1994
"Russians Probe Use of Mini-Nuclear Plants", NucNet No.67/95 14/2/95
"Floating N-Plants: Breaking New Ground in Russia's Frozen North", NucNet No. 294/96 11/6/96
"Marine Power - Braving the Chill of the Market", V Kovalenko, Nuclear Engineering International, Jan 1993.
"A Buoyant New Market? Floating Nuclear Plants For Remote Regions",
E.I. Ignatenko, D.M. Klykov, V.K. Kovalenko, F.M. Mitenkov, A.K.
Polushkin., Nuclear Engineering International, May 1997.

Compliments of Proposition One Committee