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Russia to launch the world's largest nuclear icebreaker in 2019

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Update: 2017-03-30 10:21:02
Russia to launch the world's largest nuclear icebreaker in 2019

Russia is the only country among the Arctic states that has its own nuclear icebreaker fleet specially built to be used in waters covered by ice year-round. Four nuclear icebreakers and the world’s only nuclear powered transport vessel Sevmorput now operate in Russia under the authority of the ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation. However, in the near future, the country is looking forward to acquiring the next generation icebreakers. The lead universal nuclear powered icebreaker was named Arktika (Arctic in Tussian).

Vyacheslav Ruksha, Director General of the state enterprise Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear fleet operator, speaks about the new Russian nuclear icebreaker of world record-breaking size.

What will the new Russian nuclear icebreaker be like?
Arktika will be the flagship in the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet. The ship will be equipped with a RITM-200 nuclear propulsion plant, which comprises two reactors with a thermal capacity of 175 MW each. The ship is 173 m long (almost two football fields), 34 m wide, with displacement up to 33,500 tonnes. It will be the world's largest and the most powerful icebreaker. Arktika will be able to force through ice 3 meters thick at speeds up to 2 knots (3.7 kilometers per hour).

What phase is the construction at now?
It's already in its concluding phase. The hull was launched last June. Fitting-out of the nuclear ship is currently continuing afloat. Last September, the nuclear power unit was assembled and both reactors were installed on the icebreaker. Each of them weights 180 tonnes, their installation took about a month and was carried out by means of a gigantic floating crane.

Are there any technical innovations on this icebreaker?
Obviously, technologies that were never used on a nuclear-powered fleet before were used in the construction of the icebreaker. For example, the variable water draft from 11.5 to 8.5 meters will enable it to carry out the tasks of linear nuclear icebreakers (Arktika type) as well as of shallow-draft ones (Taimyr type). It will allow the ship to lead a group of vessels in ice-covered areas and river outlets, and in shallow waters.

Recharge of the nuclear nuclear propulsion plant is carried out once per 7-10 years depending on operation intensity. The service life of a new reactor unit is 40 years. A cutting-edge anti-ice system will also be installed on the icebreaker. It blows compressed air out along the side of the ship, which prevents frosting and reduces ice-hull friction. It greatly improves the icebreaker's ability to move through ice and, accordingly, the speed of passage. This technology has successfully passed the test in all possible working conditions, including with critical loads. On the icebreaker Arktika the advanced technical solutions in the area of arctic nuclear shipbuilding will be implemented.

When does it set sail?
Commissioning is planned for the second quarter of 2019.
How will the icebreaker be used?
The main task of the icebreaker will be to clear the way for groups of vessels in the Arctic region. It has 34 meter beam at waterline and is able to force through ice up to three meters thick at a sustainable speed which will significantly improve the passage and make it safer. The icebreaker also could be used to tow vessels and other floating structures in ice-covered areas, provide assistance to ships and for rescue operations in icy conditions.

Russia is the only nation with a nuclear icebreaker fleet. How many vessels does it have?
Currently the nuclear icebreaker fleet includes 4 icebreakers: two nuclear-powered icebreakers with double-reactor nuclear propulsion systems of 75,000 hp capacity (Yamal and 50 Lyet Pobyedi (50 Years of Victory)), two icebreakers with one-reactor propulsion systems of 50,000 hp capacity (Taimyr and Vaigach) and also the world’s only nuclear powered transport vessel Sevmorput with a power plant 40 thousand horse power strong. Also there are five service ships in the fleet.

A large-scale program to construct new-generation nuclear icebreakers is currently underway in Russia. In addition to the lead universal nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika, construction of two more nuclear-powered ships of the same class has started at the Baltic Shipyard. These icebreakers – Sibir and Ural – will be built as a part of the serial production process.

What is more, a draft of a biggest Russian icebreaker is currently under development. The ship will be called Leader. This nuclear icebreaker alone will be capable of clearing a safe passage for vessels via a near-polar route. Its power will amount to 110 MW and it will be 50 m wide, which is a third larger than the icebreaker Arktika.

Why does Russia need such a large number of nuclear-powered icebreakers?
The number is not large, it is optimal. The size of a nuclear icebreaker fleet must be sufficient to enable regular shipping traffic in the waters of the Northern Sea Route, which goes along the northern shores of Russia and in the Arctic Ocean and ends at Cape Dezhnev. In the coming decades our main task will be to provide icebreaker support for the national hydrocarbon projects with direct transportation to Pacific Ocean markets.

And why is it necessary to build such large icebreakers?
Because of their increased hull width, the Russian icebreakers that are currently under construction will clear a much wider channel for regular-sized commercial vessels, so that the deadweight of tankers following them may be doubled. Icebreakers of the current class can lead vessels with deadweight of no more than 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes, while new icebreakers will be able to clear a way for ships with deadweight of up to 100-150,000 tonnes. In 2016 the cargo transportation capacity along the Northern Sea Route amounted to6.5 million tonnes a year. In recent years there has been a steady growth of cargo traffic (1.5-2 million tonnes). However, according to our forecast, a quantitative and qualitative leap is expected in cargo transportation, including hydrocarbons, by 2020-2022. It may reach up to 30 million tonnes per annum. To make this cargo traffic possible, Russia is building the world's largest nuclear-powered icebreakers.

What kind of ice might be a threat to an icebreaker?
Even if you possess the most powerful ship, this does not guarantee that the work in high latitudes will be easy. It requires experience, the knowledge of vessel’s technical capabilities and of work areas. The Arctic Region requires of seamen the utmost concentration of knowledge and skills. The seamen of nuclear icebreaker fleet possess all those qualities.

How many people will be aboard of such an icebreaker during a voyage?
The number of crew on the nuclear icebreaker Arktika will be 53. There is already a captain and a chief engineer on the vessel's crew. As is customary, those who operate the icebreaker should take part in its construction to learn all the details of the gigantic vessel inside out.

What conditions will be provided for the crew?
Particular emphasis will be placed on the working and living conditions of the crew. Design engineers tried to ensure the most favorable individual living conditions for every crew member. That's why every man on board will have a comfortable cabin for himself. Of course, the icebreaker has public areas as well: lounges, a gym, swimming pool and conference hall. In addition, there will be 50 places in single, double and quadruple cabins for members of scientific expeditions. Crew habitability is provided for by modern air conditioning systems, fresh and sea water, ventilation, refrigeration and plumbing systems.

BDST: 2012 HRS, MAR 30
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